States Push Back on Local Paid-Sick-Leave Laws

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As more city governments across the country consider enacting laws requiring employers to give workers varying amounts of paid-sick-leave time, some state lawmakers have blocked local jurisdictions from doing so.

Although local paid-sick-leave laws may seem like a good idea for workers, they can become administrative headaches for employers who operate in multiple localities, said Melanie Pate, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix. "It is difficult for employers to comply with a patchwork of local laws that have different requirements."

These types of local plans should be carefully structured and should limit additional burdens on employers that already provide employees with paid sick leave or the equivalent, added Becky Montgomery, SHRM-SCP, chief human resources officer at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie.

[SHRM members-only resource: Leave Laws by State and Municipality]

Employers in some states, such as California, Maryland and Washington, must comply with state and local sick-leave laws that have different accrual rates, caps and administrative rules. However, more than 20 states have passed laws that prohibit local governments from imposing their own mandates, and many of those laws were enacted in the last five years. New Jersey's statewide paid-sick-leave law, which takes effect Oct. 29, will pre-empt the 13 local ordinances that were passed before the state mandate.

Consistency for Employers

In states with more conservative legislatures, the theory behind blocking local paid-sick-leave laws, even when there is no statewide law, may be that less regulation and fewer administrative burdens on employers are better for the economy, Pate noted. In other states, legislators' goal may be to give employers consistency in their respective states, she said.

"Those states that provide statewide paid sick leave, but simultaneously block local government from enacting their own paid-sick-leave ordinance, appear to be striking a balance," said Josh Woodard, an attorney with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix. "They arguably recognized a need for paid sick leave, but balance that need with the burden that statewide employers face when having to comply with a multitude of local ordinances."

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) opposes inconsistent paid-sick-leave rules at the state and local levels that make compliance difficult for employers. Instead, SHRM backs the Workflex in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4219), which would simplify paid-leave options nationwide and offer employees generous paid leave and increased flexible work arrangements.

Compliance Tips

The best compliance approach depends on an employer's business model and location, the number of employees it has, and the employer's ability to accurately keep records of paid-sick-leave use, said Benjamin Nucci, who is also an attorney with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix. Multi-jurisdictional employers may want to have a single paid-leave policy for the entire workforce that is compliant with the most generous provisions of all the applicable state and local laws, he said. A single policy may be easier to administer and monitor for compliance.

"While that policy will likely provide some employees with more benefits than what their local leave law requires, it could go a long way toward ensuring compliance and avoiding costly fines," he noted.

Larger employers with more resources may want to develop a few policies. Because some laws are very similar, employees could be grouped under a single policy defined by a region, he explained. For example, instead of having 12 different policies for 12 jurisdictions with paid-sick-leave requirements, the employer may be able to group those employees under three separate regional policies.

Businesses should consider culture, financial goals and administrative systems, Montgomery said. Time off is a benefit employees value, and some organizations want to provide the same benefit to all employees, regardless of location, she noted. "For other companies, it can be too costly to offer greater paid sick leave than what is required."

Employers should note that tracking, reporting and administrative requirements can vary widely from city to city and state to state, and can even be in conflict. Some employers may need to have different rules for each jurisdiction.

It is important for multi-jurisdictional employers to audit their paid-sick-leave benefits to ensure compliance with the laws in each location, Pate said. A careful audit will provide valuable information that will help the employer make appropriate decisions regarding companywide benefits.

Trends to Watch

The definition of an "eligible event" for using paid sick leave will likely continue to expand beyond personal or immediate family illnesses or appointments and may include more caregiver responsibilities, such as touring care facilities for child or elder care, she said.

Pate expects to see more employers offering family-leave benefits that give caregivers paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child. "There is a strong demand for generous family leave benefits in the current job market, and I believe that employers will continue to find creative ways to expand these benefits even though paid family leave is not currently required under federal law," she said.

Despite the pushback in some states, Woodard noted that "until there is a federal requirement that pre-empts state and local governments, we expect to continue to see more jurisdictions enact measures providing paid sick leave for employees of private employers." 

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