Reconciling State, Local Sick Leave Laws Increasingly Complex

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By Genevieve Douglas

When it comes to complying with paid sick leave laws, employers aren’t just dealing with different state laws, they can also have to comply with a patchwork of local laws.

Ten states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have paid sick leave laws. California, Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland also encompass jurisdictions with their own leave ordinances, according to Bloomberg Law data. When New Jersey’s paid sick leave law goes into effect in October, however, the state’s 12 local laws will be pre-empted by it. But that’s not always the case.

The differing local laws in a state with a sick leave law can create “its own mini-patchwork,” Joshua Seidman, an associate in the labor and employment department of Seyfarth Shaw’s New York office, told Bloomberg Law.

Then there are the states with no sick leave law but with multiple localities that have them, including Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Walking Careful Compliance Path

Employers are navigating the interplay between local and state paid sick leave laws “very carefully,” Sebastian Chilco, knowledge management counsel for Littler Mendelson’s San Francisco office, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

“Whether a business operates in one city, one state, multiple states, or nationwide, paid sick leave compliance can be tricky, and the challenges may be compounded if other laws—not just leave laws—interact with paid sick leave,” Chilco said. Laws that interfere could range from unpaid family and medical leave provisions to leave mandates in cases of domestic violence and other crimes, and even leave requirements for bone marrow or organ donors, Chilco said.

In California and Washington, for example, the state laws don’t pre-empt local laws from requiring more generous leave, so employers in these states could have to give employees in different jurisdictions different paid leave benefits. That “can really impose complications on employers looking to offer a single set-up,” Seidman said. “You have to go point by point to see where the two laws differ, and offer employees the more generous standard,” he said.

Seidman cited a California law‘s accrual provisions as an illustration of this challenge. The state has an accrual rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, which is the same accrual rate as a San Francisco ordinance mandates. However, the state only requires employers to allow workers to accrue up to 48 hours, or six days, as a maximum balance, while in San Francisco the maximum accrual balance is 72 hours for most employers, he said.

Moreover, the California law lets employers set a cap on how much leave workers can use in a year—24 hours or three days, whichever is greater. But in San Francisco no cap exists, so employers end up with a potentially greater amount of sick time taken, increased associated costs, and added administration requirements of reconciling the different laws, Seidman said.

Texas Could See More Leave Laws

Employers in Texas may be the next group to have to navigate multiple sick leave laws. Austin passed a paid sick leave mandate back in February. It survived a challenge by a business coalition and the state’s attorney general on the grounds that it violated the state minimum wage law, but proponents say they expect to have to continue to defend the measure.

The success in Austin has given paid sick leave advocates in San Antonio and Dallas hope of getting the issue on the ballot in November, Ana Gonzalez told Bloomberg Law. Gonzalez is a policy advocate with the Workers Defense Project and the Working Texans for Paid Sick Time coalition.

In May, the Working Texans coalition delivered 144,000 signatures to the San Antonio City Council, and on June 11 the coalition submitted more than 120,000 signatures to the Dallas council. Once signatures are validated in both cities, each council will vote on adopting the ordinance or sending it to the ballot, Gonzalez said.

Both paid sick leave ordinances cover part-time, full-time, and temporary employees. They call for employees to earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. For employers with 15 or fewer employees, the maximum amount of leave annually is six days, while employers with 16 or more workers would have an eight-day leave maximum.

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