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Motivating Employees: HR tips for getting employees motivated and engaged with your company.

Sick Leave Coming to Your State Soon

Love it or hate it, paid sick leave is an idea gaining momentum across the country. A handful of states and local governments have passed laws in the last five years guaranteeing the leave for a good many private-sector workers.  It is projected to be on the ballot in the next major election cycle in 25 states.

Connecticut blazed the trail by enacting a law in 2011 covering “service workers” that went into effect on January 1, 2012.  Then the California legislature passed a statewide law that took effect on July 1, 2015.  (California cities San Francisco, Oakland, and Emeryville have their own paid sick time laws.)  Massachusetts jumped on the bandwagon with a voter-approved law that also took effect July 1, 2015.  Oregon lawmakers passed a law in June that is to take effect on January 1, 2016. (Portland, Oregon, already had a law, and Eugene had just passed one that will be preempted by the state law.)

Other localities with paid sick leave laws include Washington, D.C.; New York City; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Montgomery County, Maryland; and nine New Jersey cities – Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Trenton, Montclair, and Bloomfield.

The movement has so far stalled at the national level, although the administration-backed Healthy Families Act has been introduced in both the House and Senate.  In the absence of a federal law providing paid sick leave, President Barack Obama is urging states and cities to pass their own laws. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett recently embarked on a multi-city tour promoting that effort.

Growing trend
Although a number of employers—especially larger employers—voluntarily offer some form of paid leave for employees dealing with their own health problems or those of their close family members, many employers are reluctant to make what they consider a costly and difficult commitment.  But it may not be a choice for employers in states and localities with laws requiring paid sick leave.

The percentage of employers who voluntarily offer paid sick leave has been steadily growing for over the past two decades.

According to one study, in 2012, approximately 61 percent of private-sector employees received some amount of paid sick leave, compared to 50 percent in 1992.  However, there continues to be a wide gap in the voluntary paid sick leave offered to white-collar workers versus blue-collar workers.  Employers also are far more likely to offer paid sick leave to full-time employees than to part-time employees.

The trend has really taken off in New Jersey, the state with nine localities with their own versions of a paid sick leave law most employers, even small employers, in his state already have paid sick leave policies, in part because so many local ordinances require them.

The issue also is hotly debated in the state legislature, where a statewide paid sick leave law is pending. Paid leave has generated a lot of buzz and gained significant momentum in the past year but also has generated a lot of opposition from employer-interest groups.  The New Jersey paid sick leave bill was the most heavily lobbied bill in New Jersey in 2014.

Employer challenges
Confusion is one problem employers face in an environment where requirements in one state or locality differ from those in another.  In New Jersey, one of the biggest challenges at this point is ensuring that large employers who operate in several locations throughout the state know what the requirements are from one municipality to the next.

One of the sticking points for the New Jersey statewide paid sick leave bill is that it would not preempt local laws that provide more favorable benefits to employees.  From that standpoint, many in New Jersey government believe federal paid sick leave would make it easier for employers to ensure compliance if it preempted state and local laws.

A confusing patchwork of laws isn’t the only challenge.  Employers also worry about financial and administrative costs.  Not only does an employer need to continue to pay an employee out on paid sick leave, but they need to either shift the employee’s responsibilities onto a coworker or hire a temporary replacement to make sure that the employee’s job responsibilities get fulfilled.

Additionally, employees might come to feel a sense of entitlement to paid sick leave and may become, shall we say, creative, in their requests for leave as the year comes to an end and their unused time is set to expire.

Also, a national paid sick leave law would force employers to spend time and money implementing paid sick leave policies and monitoring compliance with the law.  Record-keeping and compliance will be particularly challenging for employers who employ some workers in cities that have passed local sick leave ordinances and other workers in cities that have not as of yet implemented any law.

Benefits to offering paid leave
Of course, paid sick leave also can benefit employers as well as employees.  Offering paid sick leave is likely to make employees happier and feel more appreciated.  This could lead to a more motivated workforce and less turnover. It could also reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims, Social Security disability claims, and short-term disability claims because employees would not need to come up with a means for obtaining pay during certain leaves of absence.

In addition, employees are less likely to come to work sick if they have paid time off. Encouraging these employees to stay home and mend is often better for the employer in the long run.  The employee will be more productive once they have had time to recover from their illness and won’t have spread their germs to coworkers or clients in the meantime.