Recently, we discussed a new ordinance passed by the city of Portland that guarantees all employees the right to sick leave benefits. Now it seems that the state of Oregon is following Portland’s lead and considering expanding leave benefits for employees across the state. The Oregonian recently reported that Oregon’s lawmakers are considering three separate bills regarding employee leave benefits in this legislative session; under the new laws, employees in Oregon would be entitled to bereavement leave, paid sick leave, and paid leave for state employees who are victims of domestic violence. These new laws would make Oregon – one of the twelve states that has leave laws on top of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – one of the most generous states in the United States in terms of mandatory leave policies.
The FMLA allows all public sector employees and some private sector employees (those whose company has at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius) who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding year to take up to 12 weeks a year for several reasons: parental leave in the case of a child birth; to help deal with a serious health condition; to care for family member with a serious health condition; or to deal with any issues stemming from a family member being in active military service. Oregon’s existing Family Leave Act, by contrast, covers a broader range of people (employees of companies with more than 25 people in the state, who have worked at least an average of 25 hours per week for six months) and provides a broader range of reasons for taking leave (most of those included in the federal law, as well as pregnancy disability – in which case women are entitled to another 12 weeks of leave for another qualifying reason – or prenatal care; taking leave to care for a sick child without a serious health condition is also covered).
Employee Advocates Support Leave Bills
Employee advocates welcome these new bills as vital economic protections for employees who have to deal with the normal ups and downs of modern life. One Oregon woman, Jenna Passalacqua, testifying in favor of the bereavement bill, said that she absolutely was not able to go to work in the days after her mother was shot to death last year. If she had been required by her employer to work, Passalacqua notes, she would not have been able to comply and would have been fired. Under the proposed bill, employees like Passalacqua would be entitled to two weeks of unpaid bereavement leave. The bills regarding sick leave and domestic violence leave would also entitle some employees to a certain amount of paid leave. Given the numbers of workers in Oregon who are not entitled to take paid sick days – and given that some would argue it is better for some people, including those who work in the food industry or with children, not to come to work when they are sick – there is strong support among employees for these new bills that would protect workers from being fired or exploited when they are dealing with health or personal crises.
Business Leaders Claim New Laws Are Too Burdensome
Naturally, not everyone agrees that these laws should be adopted by Oregon’s state legislators. To begin with, many in the business community claim that Oregon’s existing laws regarding leave policy are too generous and tie business owners’ hands. As we mentioned earlier, Oregon’s leave laws are significantly more generous than the protections provided at the federal level, and what most states provide. Some worry that if too many people take these varying kinds of leaves, employers will not have flexibility and security they need to run their businesses effectively. Furthermore, many in the business community complain that Oregon’s existing leave laws are already too complex without the addition of further bills. As it currently stands, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries provides much-needed seminars for employers who are trying to understand the leave laws – adding new regulations will make an already complicated system even more incomprehensible.
While the bereavement bill has already been approved by the House, and looks likely to pass in the Senate, it is unclear what the fate of the other leave law bills will be. If the sick leave and domestic violence leave bills do not pass now, they will likely be brought up again in another legislative session. In the meantime, interim work groups will be looking closely at the differences between the federal and state laws to see how they affect Oregon companies.
Even for employees who currently benefit from their company’s sick leave policies, it will be important to watch the progress of these bills. The legislature’s decision on sick leave, bereavement leave, and domestic violence leave will drastically affect employee rights across Oregon.
If you have any questions about your leave rights, or if you feel that your company has treated you unfairly in regards to your taking leave, please contact one of our attorneys, who can help guide you.