Leave Laws Covering More Ground


Persistent efforts to pass a range of parental leave and sick-leave measures is making 2017 a noteworthy year. Although measures are passing legislatures at a trickle, they are covering a range of situations.

For example, California passed a measure providing unpaid parental leave to workers for small-business employers and Rhode Island has passed a measure that combines sick leave with safe leave, to cover certain health emergencies.

Parental, Sick Leave With a Twist

Employers with 20 to 49 employees within 75 miles of the business location must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster-care placement, effective Jan. 1, 2018, under a measure (S.B. 63) signed Oct. 12 by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The New Parent Leave Act does not apply to employers covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act, which apply to employers with at least 50 employees.

The number of employees who work for one employer but at multiple locations within a 75 mile area  would be aggregated, so employers with fewer than 20 employees at any location could be affected.

The New Parent Leave Act affects employees who have worked for a given employer for more than 12 months and who have at least 1,250 service hours with that employer within a year.

Employers and employees may negotiate to use accrued paid time off during the unpaid parental leave period. In instances in which both parents work for the same employer, no requirement exists that more than 12 weeks of parental leave be provided.

Employers must guarantee covered employees before they take leave that when they return they will have the same or comparable employment or the employers will be considered to have refused the leave.

Employers also must maintain and pay continued group health coverage for employees using the parental leave, but may recover health-coverage costs from employees who fail to return to work, except where the failure is due to a serious health condition or a reason beyond the worker’s control.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s paid sick- and safe-leave measure (2017-H 5413Baa, 2017-S 0290B), signed Sept. 28 by Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), provides up to three earned sick days in 2018, four  days in 2019, and five days in 2020. 

The leave may be taken to care for one’s own health condition, that of a family member, because a health emergency has closed a child’s school or an employee’s workplace, or because the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Comment Sought on Paid Family-Leave Funding

On Oct. 10, a public hearing was held by the District of Columbia Council on five paid family and medical leave measures that would provide the same paid-leave benefits as those enacted on April 28, 2017, under the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2016, which provides eight weeks of parental leave, six weeks of family leave, and two weeks of personal sick leave and which is to be funded through a 0.62 percent tax on D.C. businesses starting in 2019.

The proposed measures would preserve the amount of law granted by the current law, but would provide funding through a public insurance program that would place a 0.42 percent fee on employers and a 0.2 percent fee on employees, a government mandate requiring some employers to provide benefits, and a hybrid mechanism that would require small companies to use a public insurance program and large employers to privately provide benefits.

Written comments on the measures are due by Oct. 24, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

Running the Numbers

Currently, only California (2004), New Jersey (2009), and Rhode Island (2014) have paid family leave; but, in 2018 New York is to begin implementing its paid family leave law, and in 2020 the District of Columbia and Washington are to begin implementing their own paid family leave laws.

On Sept. 28, Rhode Island became the first state in 2017 to enact a paid sick-leave measure and the eighth state to do so overall, joining California (2014), Connecticut (2011), Massachusetts (2014), Oregon (2015), and Vermont (2016). Arizona and Washington voters in 2016 approved ballot initiatives that provide paid sick leave in Arizona, effective July 1, 2017, and in Washington, effective Jan. 1, 2018. The District of Columbia amended its 2008 paid sick-leave law in 2014.

In 2017, Nevada legislators passed a paid sick-leave measure (S.B. 196) that was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), but Maryland’s paid sick-leave measure (H.B. 1) passed by a veto-proof majority. So, although Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed the measure in May, it is likely that his veto will be overridden when the Maryland legislature returns in January 2018.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 17 states introduced at least 36 paid leave measures in 2017, including parental leave and sick leave. About 17 measures failed or were vetoed and 13 are pending.

Thirteen percent of private-sector employees had access to paid family leave in March 2016, the Congressional Research Service said in a May 24 report that cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.

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