by Tammy Binford
Is it a sensible plan to boost productivity and give workers the help they deserve, or is it an unaffordable, unfair mandate on already overburdened employers? President Barack Obama’s announcement of a push to pass a paid sick leave law is likely to garner both reactions.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, launched the effort January 14 with a post on the career-centered social network LinkedIn, a venue chosen because of its high profile with employers.
“How many working parents know that sinking feeling from sending their child off to school with a fever? How many Americans have to show up to work when battling an illness even when they know they won’t be at their best, it will lengthen their recovery time, and they may likely spread their sickness to others?” Jarrett wrote in her post.
Because workers face those issues, Jarrett wrote, Obama is urging Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act. A White House fact sheet says the legislation by Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, would allow workers to use the time off for their own illness or to care for a sick family member as well as to obtain preventive care or address the impacts of domestic violence. A USA Today report says the DeLauro-Murray bill, first introduced in 2005, would apply to companies with at least 15 workers.
What can employers expect?
Some states and cities already have passed laws requiring paid sick leave, and Obama is urging more states and cities to pass such laws. Oregon is one state with cities that have passed sick leave laws. Calvin Keith, a partner in the Portland office of Perkins Coie LLP, represents employers, and he says he hasn’t heard a lot of feedback yet since the Portland law is relatively new and the Eugene law doesn’t take effect until this summer. But he says Portland’s smaller employers find it difficult and costly to provide the leave and handle the recordkeeping.
“Most of my larger employers did not need to add additional leave. They already provided sufficient leave,” Keith says. “Record keeping can still be difficult, however, especially for employers with many locations. Union employers have sometimes been forced to provide additional leave beyond that negotiated in a bargaining agreement.”
If a federal law is passed, Keith says he expects employers to face the same issues Portland employers are seeing—costly for small employers and difficult to administer. “Larger employers may not have a significant problem, depending on administration issues,” he says. “If there is no union contract exception—I expect there will be—it could raise issues for unionized employers who have already negotiated a leave package.”
Obama also is calling on states and cities to pass similar laws. The fact sheet points out that San Francisco was the first city in the country to guarantee access to earned sick days in 2006. Then in 2008, Washington, D.C., passed its own paid sick time law. In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass a paid sick days law, followed by a law in California. Massachusetts voters approved a sick leave law in the November election. It will take effect July 1.
Proposals for federal employees
In addition to the sick leave legislation, Obama is proposing legislation to provide paid family leave to federal workers, according to the fact sheet. The proposal would provide federal employees with six weeks of paid administrative leave for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. Also, parents would be allowed to use sick days to care for a healthy child after a birth mother’s period of incapacitation or after an adoption.
Obama also announced a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to allow for the advance of six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, employees caring for ill family members, and other sick leave-eligible uses, according to the fact sheet.