Austin, Texas has jumped on the paid sick leave bandwagon that is sweeping the country. Currently, there is no federal law requiring private employers to provide paid sick time. However, over the last several years, a growing number of states and local jurisdictions have enacted paid sick time laws. The trend continues in Austin.
Notably, although the effective date and the maximum amount of paid sick time an employer is required to provide will vary based on employer size, there is no small employer exception. The ordinance will apply to all private employers in Austin. Beginning October 1, 2018, employers with six or more employees must provide paid sick time. By October 1, 2020, all employers, including those with five or fewer employees, must comply with the ordinance.
The ordinance has been met with some resistance. Shortly after the City Council approved the ordinance, a coalition of local and national business associations filed a lawsuit asserting that the ordinance conflicts with Texas state law. They are suing to have the ordinance declared unenforceable. The coalition also sought a temporary injunction of the ordinance pending resolution of the lawsuit. Late last month, the request for temporary injunction was denied. Therefore, the ordinance is now on track to take effect as scheduled.
1. How much paid sick time are employers required to provide?
Under the ordinance, employees accrue paid sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked and may generally use the sick time as soon as it is accrued.
2. May employers impose any limitations?
Yes. In three ways:
- An employer may restrict an employee from using sick time during the employee’s first 60 days of employment if the employer establishes that the employee’s term of employment is at least one year
- An employer may cap the number of hours of paid sick time an employee may take each year depending on the employer’s size:
- An employer with more than 15 employees at any time during the preceding 12 months: 64 hours per year.
- An employer with 15 or fewer employees: 48 hours per year.
- An employer can limit sick time usage to no more than eight days in a calendar year.
3. Are employers required to notify employees about the availability of paid sick time?
Yes. At least once a month, an employer is required to provide each employee a statement showing the amount of the employee’s available paid sick time. After the City makes available a sign that describes the requirements of the ordinance, employers will be required to display the sign. Additionally, if an employer provides an employee handbook to employees, the ordinance requires that the handbook include a notice of employee rights and remedies.
4. What if an employer already has a paid time off policy?
If an employer already provides employees paid time off under an existing paid time off policy, the employer is not required to provide additional paid sick time if the existing paid time off policy meets the accrual, purpose, and usage requirements under the ordinance.
5. For what purposes are employees permitted to use paid sick time?
Under the ordinance, an employee may use accrued paid sick time for an absence caused by:
The employee’s physical or mental illness or injury, preventative medical or health care, or health condition; or
The employee’s need to care for a family member’s physical or mental illness, preventative medical or health care, injury, or health condition; or
The employee’s need to seek medical attention, seek relocation, obtain services from a victim services organization, or participate in legal or court ordered action related to an incident of victimization from domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking involving the employee or employee’s family member.
6. Can an employer require verification of why an employee is requesting to use paid sick time?
Yes. An employer may require verification of the need to use sick time for sick time requests exceeding three consecutive work days.
7. Does the ordinance provide employees any additional rights regarding sick time?
Yes. The ordinance protects employees who seek to use their accrued sick time and prohibits retaliation. It explicitly states that an employer may not transfer, discharge, suspend, reduce hours, or directly threaten these actions against an employee for requesting or using sick time, or for reporting a violation or participating in an administrative proceeding related to an alleged violation of the ordinance. Employees cannot be required to find a replacement to cover their sick time absence.
8. How and when will the ordinance be enforced?
The City’s Equal Employment Opportunity/ Fair Housing Office will enforce the ordinance and may assess a civil penalty of up to $500 against an employer for each violation. Penalties for violations of the non-retaliation provisions in the ordinance may be assessed any time after the ordinance goes into effect. For other violations, there will be a grace period lasting until June 1, 2019.
Would you like to learn more about Austin’s paid sick time ordinance or other state and local sick time laws? Do you need assistance in creating or revising a paid time off policy or amending your employee handbook? Please contact one of our HR Consultants at 888-622-6460.