New Austin Paid Sick Leave Ordinance
Last month, Austin became the first city in the southern U.S. to pass a mandatory sick pay ordinance. Effective Oct. 1, 2018, private businesses with 15 or more employees will have to provide employees up to eight paid sick days per year. Employers with less than 15 employees will have to provide employees up to six paid sick days per year. Employers with fewer than five employees do not have to comply with the new ordinance until Oct. 1, 2020.
Accrual and Eligibility
Employees (not independent contractors or unpaid interns) will be eligible under this new ordinance if they work at least 80 hours in a calendar year within the Austin city limits. Eligible employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to the maximums stated above. For current employees, earned leave will begin to accrue on the date the ordinance becomes effective - either Oct. 1, 2018 or Oct. 1, 2020. For new employees hired after those dates, leave will begin to accrue at the commencement of employment. While leave begins to accrue immediately upon employment, an employer may prohibit use of sick leave during an employee’s first 60 days of employment if the employer can establish that the employee’s term of employment will be at least one year. Further guidance on this provision is expected at a later date.
Leave can be carried over from one year to the next (up to a maximum of eight days), unless the employer automatically grants the employee all of his or her eligible days on the first day of the year. Even with such a carryover allowed, an employer is not required to grant more than the maximum of eight days of leave in a calendar year.
Earned leave time may be used by all employees for:
- The employee’s or a family member’s physical or mental illness or injury; and
- Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking for time to seek medical attention, relocate, obtain victim’s services or participate in related legal proceedings.
Under the ordinance, a “family member” includes spouses, parents and children, as well as any other blood relative, along with anyone “whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” Employees must make a timely request to use the leave before their scheduled work time, unless the need for leave is unforeseeable. An employer may adopt “reasonable verification procedures” to establish that an employee’s request for sick leave is for a permitted use if the request is for more than three consecutive work days.
Employers will have to provide monthly updates on the amount of sick pay hours accumulated and post notices, to be provided by the City at a later date, in the worksite. Additionally, employers are required to restore unused leave balances to employees who are rehired within six months of termination.
Employers that have an existing sick leave, or paid time off (PTO) policy that can be used for sick leave, can continue to use their existing policy so long as it meets the eligibility accrual and usage requirements stated above.
Employers with employees in Austin should review their existing leave, attendance and PTO policies and revise them as necessary to comply with the new paid leave ordinance. In addition, employers should be prepared to communicate the new paid leave ordinance to employees and update employee handbooks or other leave program descriptions.
CAUTION: The information above is based upon the original draft of the ordinance, and final changes may occur once the City Clerk’s office releases the final text of the ordinance.
In 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resolved more than 99,109 workplace discrimination claims—securing more than $398 million from employers in the private and public sectors as a result of these claims. Discrimination lawsuits can be very time-consuming and expensive for employers, and they can result in a loss of employee morale or reputation within the community.
According to the EEOC, these are the top 10 reasons for workplace discrimination claims in fiscal year 2017:
- Retaliation—41,097 (48.8 percent of all charges filed).
- Race—28,528 (33.9 percent).
- Disability—26,838 (31.9 percent).
- Sex—25,605 (30.4 percent).
- Age—18,376 (21.8 percent).
- National origin—8,299 (9.8 percent).
- Religion—3,436 (4.1 percent).
- Color—3,240 (3.8 percent).
- Equal Pay Act—996 (1.2 percent).
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act—206 (0.2 percent).
These percentages add up to more than 100 because some lawsuits were filed alleging multiple reasons for discrimination.
Employers should take the following steps to protect themselves from retaliation and other discrimination claims:
- Audit their practices to uncover any problematic situations;
- Create a clear anti-retaliation policy that includes specific examples of what management can and cannot do when disciplining or terminating employees;
- Provide training to management and employees on anti-retaliation and other discrimination policies;
- Implement a user-friendly internal complaint procedure for employees; and
- Uphold a standard of workplace civility, which can reduce retaliatory behaviors.
For more information on Austin’s new paid sick leave ordinance or protecting your business from discrimination claims, contact Higginbotham today.
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