Patchwork of Sick Leave Laws a Challenge for Employers

Stay informed and ready to meet both everyday challenges and long-term planning and policy-making goals, with focused news, practical information, and strategic insights on all HR-related...

By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Dec. 13 — The trend of states and localities passing laws mandating paid family and sick leave and employers voluntarily offering the benefits will likely continue, observers say.

“Although the incoming Trump administration has talked about a potential federal initiative regarding paid maternity leave, I don’t know how much of a pressing issue it will be coming into office,” Lenny Sanicola of WorldatWork, a nonprofit HR association based in Scottsdale, Ariz., told Bloomberg BNA by e-mail Dec. 12. Moreover, “compared to other state and local and organizational plans, the federal proposal alluded to during the presidential race is limited in scope,” he said.

That leaves states, counties and cities to fill the gap. “I would anticipate that paid leave initiatives will continue at the state and local level,” Sanicola said.

And yet many businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions might “wish for a mandate” that would cover the entire country to avoid inconsistencies about eligibility for and administration of paid leave, Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, which provides education for absence management professionals, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 13.

“The challenge for many multi-state employers is the patchwork of local and state laws,” Sanicola said. “Employers have had to spend resources to create an infrastructure that tracks all the different eligibility and payment rules in order to comply with the various rules.”

One option for such employers is “to look at all of their mandates and select the most generous of all and apply that uniformly throughout,” Sanicola said, but of course they might still have to revise them in the future as more states and cities adopt mandates.

“I really thought we were going to see a paid family leave mandate before the election,” Rhodes said.

The type of leave “I’m seeing the most movement on is the paid sick leave,” she said, noting recent moves in that direction by furniture retailer IKEA and the District of Columbia City Council.

“Because we don’t have any kind of [national] paid family leave mandate, states and cities are mandating paid sick leave so people can care for family members, or take sick leave. But really it’s meant for family leave,” she said; the laws specify that employees can take leave to care for a sick family member.

Recruitment and Retention Tool

Large employers like Nike, Amazon and Netflix have decided to offer paid family leave of their own accord to help with recruitment and retention, and medium-sized employers have followed suit, although not to the same extent, Rhodes said.

“We will also continue to see U.S. companies either adding or enhancing their current paid leave, parental and family leave benefits,” Sanicola said.

The U.S. remains the only major industrialized country not to have any paid maternity leave, Rhodes said. But as baby boomers retire and millennials of child-bearing age come to dominate the workforce, this is becoming an increasingly important issue, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Human Resources Report