USA MapMinneapolis is one of many cities giving increased attention to mandating a paid sick leave policy.  On March 16, 2016, the Minneapolis Workplace Regulations Partnership Group (WPG) (created by Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council) submitted its Findings & Recommendations to the Minneapolis City Council.  In a nutshell, the WPG recommended the City pass a sick time policy covering all employers “working in the City of Minneapolis regardless of employer location”.

The Proposed Minneapolis Paid Sick Leave Policy

The proposed Minneapolis policy (which I won’t get into great detail in this post), would require covered employers to provide employees with paid sick time for themselves or members of extended families and household for mental and physical health.  The proposal recommends that employees accrue sick time at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 worked, up to an annual cap of 48 hours.  Employees would be allowed to carryover up to 80 hours of accrued, unused sick time – but need not be paid this time out at termination.  WPG member Steve Cramer of the Minneapolis Downtown Council (business association representative) submitted a Minority Statement proposing an alternative means to address the Council’s sick leave policy goal and noting several issues with the proposed policy (such as employers who already have a successful flexible PTO policy may not mirror the City’s ordinance, but otherwise achieves the same objectives of paid time off for sickness).  It is those concerns that employers are raising – how can we possibly keep up with the nuances of yet another sick leave ordinance when we already have a comprehensive paid time off policy?

Various Paid Sick Leave Laws and Ordinances Already Exist Nationwide

Many Minnesota employers operate in multiple states.  I can only imagine trying to keep up with all the changing wage and hour laws – it seems as if in this past year every city, county and state is enacting (or attempting to pass) new, more restrictive paid leave laws.  How is a HR professional to sleep at night!?  Minneapolis’ proposed ordinance is only one of many either proposed or now enacted.  In fact, the WPG’s proposal Exhibit C provides a comparison of paid sick time across the US in relation to the proposed policy.  The following jurisdictions are summarized, which some of you may find helpful: California (state, San Francisco; Emeryville; Oakland); Connecticut; Washington D.C.; Maryland (Montgomery County); New Jersey (various cities); New York City; Oregon (state, Portland); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington (Seattle, Tacoma); and Minnesota (Minneapolis – city employees).

How Can Multi-Location Employers Manage Multiple Sick Leave Policies?

Well, the easy answer is to consistently modify your policy each time a new law or ordinance is passed that affects one of your business locations and hold all employees to that most onerous policy (which may be a mix of several).  Practical?  No.  Economical?  No.  There are many considerations for what makes most sense for your business, and thus several possible solutions.  For example, a nationwide policy in the employee handbook could be very vague such as providing the standard policy with a caveat such as “unless otherwise provided by your state or local laws” – and then have a separate policy specific to those employees which only they are given (and which is posted at the place of employment).  Certainly, you’d need to be sure in this instance that local supervisors, management and HR are educated about the local policy, and how it varies from the nationwide policy for those employees.  Also, keep in mind that state law changes to sick leave laws may change overtime to preempt a local ordinance (for example, effective January 1, 2016, Oregon’s sick time law now preempts the City of Portland’s sick leave law) – the more favorable policy for employees will prevail.

If your business is currently using a combination of vacation time and sick leave – consider moving to a one-in-all “paid time off” (PTO) system instead.  A majority of the ordinances (if not all) allow PTO to count as “sick leave”, so long as it may be used for all the reasons that the paid sick leave is intended.  Because most PTO policies have no such restrictions on the use, this is likely not going to be an issue and thus satisfies that requirement.  In addition, employers may find that you have more scheduled absences as employees using “sick time” for vacation won’t have to call in last minute with a sniffle, and instead can legitimately schedule that time off in advance.   These are only a few ways to manage the ever-changing paid sick leave requirements, and certainly it is not a one-size-fits all solution.  For example, you may have one nationwide policy and one policy for all other employees that are covered by a specific state/local ordinance that is the most onerous of all of them (in essence having only two policies).

Other Considerations

Don’t forget about various notice posting requirements which may be different.  Also, regardless of which method you chose, keep in mind that most sick leave laws require certain recordkeeping requirements as to sick time use.  So, if an employee uses PTO for a sickness (or qualifying event under a state/local sick leave law or ordinance), that may have to be recorded as such.  As always, be sure to keep these records for the minimum time required by the applicable law – usually 3 years.  Finally, as always, ensure employees are not retaliated against for taking sick leave or using PTO for sickness.