New Leave Laws Sweep State Legislatures

Federal employment laws often track state-law trends. And, across the country, proposals for paid and unpaid leave have become frequent visitors in state legislatures.  Employers should be aware of these proposals, even if your state hasn’t yet been affected.  Are these new laws a sign of what’s to come?

New Jersey Paid Family Leave

In April 2008, New Jersey became the third state in the nation to enact paid family leave legislation. The new law, which goes into effect in January 2009, will extend the State’s existing temporary disability insurance (TDI) system to provide workers with family gavelleave benefits to care for sick family members or newborn or newly adopted children. The legislation will provide 6 weeks of TDI benefits (two-thirds wage replacement up to maximum of $524 in 2008) for a worker taking leave.  Employees will be subject to an additional payroll deduction to finance the leave.  Workers will be able to take paid leave beginning in July 2009.

Paid Sick Leave In California

On Thursday, May 29, 2008, the California approved a bill that, if successful, would require that state’s employers to provide paid sick days.  California would be the first state in the country to mandate paid sick time.

Who Is Covered?

As drafted, the law would require businesses with more than 10 employees to provide at least 9 days of paid leave.  Businesses with 10 or fewer employees would be required to provide 5 days of paid time off.

An employee would become eligible for leave after 90 days of employment.  Every employee who works in the State for at least 7 days during the calendar year would qualify.

The sick days could be used for personal illness, the illness of a family member, or to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault.

What Are Employers Required to Do?

In addition to providing the paid leave, employers would have to comply with posting, notice and recordkeeping requirements.  And failure to do so could result in state enforcement through the Department of Industrial Relations, but could also serve as the basis for a civil suit.

One thing the law would not require employers to do is to pay employees for accrued but unused time off at the time of separation.

The bill went to the state Senate on Friday.  Governor Schwarzenegger has not indicated his position on the proposed law.

Domestic Violence Leave in Washington

Effective April 1, 2008, all Washington employers, regardless of size, must provide “reasonable leave” for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Who Is Covered?

Eligible employees include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  The law also protects the employee’s family members, which is defined by the statute and includes someone with whom the employee has a “dating relationship.”

The leave may be taken for the purpose of participating in legal proceedings, to receive medical treatment and mental health counseling, or obtain support from social services programs. Family members can take leave to help the employee secure help or safety.

What Must Employers do to Comply?

The law requires employers to provide unpaid job-protected leave, including intermittent leave.  As with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), upon return to work, the employee must be restored to his prior position or its equivalent.  Health insurance coverage must be maintained during the absence, as well.  The statute also contains an anti-retaliation provision.

There are also notice and verification laws very similar to those contained in the FMLA.  The employee must provide notice to the employer no later than the end of the first day of leave.  And employers may require timely verification in the form of a police report, court document, or a statement from a victim’s support group, an attorney, clergy, or medical professional.  The statement may also come from the employee directly.  The law requires that the confidentiality of this information be preserved.

The Paid Family Leave Collaborative maintains a website with detailed coverage updating the movement for various types of paid and unpaid leave across the country.