Employee Benefits Alert
The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460) was introduced last week by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The proposed legislation is similar to companion bills that Rep. DeLauro and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) previously introduced in the 110th Congress. The current bill would require employers with at least 15 employees to allow workers to earn at least 1 hour of paid sick leave, to be used for specific purposes, for every 30 hours worked (up to a maximum of 56 hours per year). Any accrued but unused sick time from one year would roll over to the next year, subject to the 56-hour maximum rule. Employers would not need to compensate workers on account of any paid sick leave that remained unused upon termination of employment or retirement, however. Employees would begin accruing leave immediately upon commencement of employment, and could begin using it as early as 60 days thereafter. Notably, the bill appears to apply to all workers, regardless of their status as full-time, part-time, and/or hourly employees.
Employers with existing paid sick leave policies that are at least as employee-friendly as the bill requires would not need to make any changes, provided that leave earned under the policy may be used under the same conditions and for the same purposes described in the proposed legislation. Those purposes include, for example, tending to the employee’s (or a family member’s) illness and obtaining preventive medical care. It is unclear whether the employer’s current program has to be identical to the new mandated benefits in order to receive this preferential grandfathering. The proposed legislation expressly does not supersede or preempt any State or local laws that grant employees greater paid sick leave rights.
Under the proposed legislation, employers could require workers to submit supporting documentation in connection with certain requests for paid sick leave lasting longer than three consecutive days. In this regard, if an employer receives any health information about an employee or family member, it would need to comply with specific data maintenance and security requirements. The bill also would require each employer to post approved notices describing various aspects of the federally mandated sick leave, either on its premises or in employee handbooks, and to maintain records demonstrating the company’s compliance with the rules.
Both the Department of Labor and individual employees would have authority to bring a cause of action against the employer for money damages and/or injunctive relief in federal or state court. Potential money damages would include wages, salary, employee benefits, or “other compensation” denied or lost due to the employer’s failure to comply with the law (up to an amount equal to 56 hours of wages or salary), plus interest and liquidated damages. Available equitable relief could include employment, reinstatement, and/or promotion.
The Department of Labor would be required to publish regulations applicable to most employers within 180 days of the legislation’s enactment. The new rules would take effect six months after such publication.
Notably, then-Senator Obama supported the Healthy Families Act during the 110th Congress, which increases the likelihood that the current version of the bill will receive serious consideration. Rumors from Capitol Hill are that there seems to be momentum on this issue, which is likely to increase if health reform efforts stall. We will continue to monitor any developments.
For more information, please contact any of the following lawyers:
Michael Lloyd, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-626-1589
Garrett Fenton, email@example.com, 202-626-5562