New HR regulations and how they impact your business
Everyone gets sick eventually. Even the healthiest and most careful employees, even people who treasure their year-on-year perfect attendance will eventually come down with something that keeps them home. And if not them, then a child or spouse will come down with something that requires care at home and a sick day will have to be taken. This makes sick days one of the most important aspects of any business’ HR policies. They are a form of insurance, letting employees know that coming down with the flu won’t cause them to get fired. Paid sick days are even better, especially when the breadwinner of a family comes down ill or has to stay home with a sick child. While every business handles sick days differently, many business owners don’t realize initially that depending on their state, paid sick leave policies could be required, not just an optional nice thing to do for your employees.
States that Require Paid Sick Leave
In alphabetical order, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) all have required sick leave in one form or another. Each state requires either all employers or employers of a certain size to offer an exact ratio of sick leave hours to hours worked. There is usually a maximum accrual of no more than 24-40 hours per year. If your business is located in one of these states (or DC), it is vital that you, the HR department, and every manager with the power to approve leave is aware of your state paid sick leave policy requirements and ensures that each employee gets the time they deserve if and when they need it.
Sick Leave Hours
People talk about sick leave in terms of days, as in “I’m taking a sick day” but in reality, it is calculated in hours. An employee who has 24 hours of sick leave does not use it all up not coming into work for a single day. Instead, it is broken up into the hours they actually do not come in for work. Therefore, 24 hours of sick leave is actually 3 full 8-hour days of work. This allows employees to take partial days if they come down sick halfway through a day, get food poisoning, or have to spend a few of their sick leave hours picking up their unwell child from school. Properly managed, a reasonable sick leave policy can cover all or most of an employee and their family’s needs for health-based time off.
Paid vs Unpaid Sick Leave
There is also a defined line between paid sick leave hours and unpaid sick leave hours. The vast majority of state-required sick leave is enumerated in paid hours but several states have caveats that require very small businesses to offer at least unpaid sick leave. Paid sick leave is the variety most employees and HR managers are referring to when they talk about their sick leave policy. This allows employees to take the time off they need without taking a hit to their monthly income. Something that might be important if they need to spend more on doctor visits, tissues, and chicken soup.
However, it is understood that businesses with too thin of margins to offer pay for unworked hours can still provide unpaid sick leave to their employees. This supplies a certain amount of job security, ensuring that employees will not be penalized for being sick as they would for simple absenteeism. Many businesses offer a certain number of paid sick leave days/hours and then an additional allowance of unpaid sick leave if an employee happens to come down with something truly debilitating.
Paid Sick Leave Policies in Other States
Because minimum paid leave requirements are defined by state, you’ll want to look up the specific policies for the state you’re in and make sure your HR department is familiar with the letter of the law. NationalPartnership.org is a great place to start to get a clear idea of the policies for your state. It is one of the few resources that lays out requirements without the legalese or simply linking to the legal document. Your state may define how sick days are accrued and how they can be used. It also defines the penalties for failing to provide employees with paid sick leave hours earned by law.