In March of this year, Portland City Council unanimously voted to pass an ordinance that would require employees to be able to accrue paid sick leave. Taking effect on January 1, 2014, the guaranteed right to paid sick leave will apply to employees working at companies with six or more employees. Employers with five or fewer employees will not be required to provide paid leave, but will not be allowed to discipline employees for using a certain amount of unpaid sick time.
How the Ordinance Works
The ordinance will allow an employees to accrue one hour of sick time for every thirty hours worked, and may use up to forty hours a year. If an employee is sick, he or she can use sick leave to cover an entire shift, or leave can cover only part of a shift if the employee simply has a doctor or dentist appointment. Sick time can be utilized for diagnosis, treatment, or other care of an illness, health condition, or injury. Health conditions include pregnancy, childbirth, post-partum care, mental illnesses, or even preventive medical care. Leave may also be used if an employee’s child or other family member has an illness, health condition, or injury.
Employees will be expected to notify employers if they are using sick leave in a timely fashion, preferably prior to the start of the anticipated shift. Employers may put in place additional policies and procedures for notification and use of sick leave. Employers will not be allowed to retaliate against employees for making use of sick time. However, for more than three consecutive days of sick leave, an employer may request documentation from a health care provider. Employers are also not required to “pay out” unused sick time at the end of an employment relationship.
The Controversy Over Sick Leave
In cities across the nation, a large amount of employers do not provide any paid sick leave to their employees. This is especially true in lower-wage industries, such as food service, daycares, and even schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long believed that the lack of paid sick time in such industries is a major public health threat. When sick people are required to go to work and have regular contact with the public, disease breaks out. In fact, one CDC study found that a single sick employee at an Ohio Chipotle caused a norovirus outbreak that caused 500 people to become violently ill in 2008.
Due to backlash from health and family welfare groups, many cities around the United States have passed ordinances similar to Portland’s. San Francisco was the first city in 2006, followed by Milwaukee, Washington D.C., Seattle, New York City, and most recently Portland. The first statewide bill passed in Connecticut, with New Jersey, Massachusetts, and now Oregon working on bills currently. Overall, the progress on guaranteeing the right to sick time looks promising for American employees in all industries.
If you have a dispute with your employer over sick leave or any other issue, do not hesitate to contact our office, HKM Employment Attorneys, to schedule a consultation.