The media has been full of stories recently about efforts by the city councils in New York City and Philadelphia to pass laws requiring employers to provide employees with paid sick leave.  While it appears that the New York City law will come into effect, as it has enough support in the council to overcome the expected veto of Mayor Bloomberg, the Philadelphia city council does not have enough votes to override Mayor Nutter’s veto.

When the New York City law comes into effect, it will join the ranks of San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut, each of which have passed laws in recent years requiring employers to provide employees with paid sick leave.  At the federal level, the proposed Healthy Families Act, which would require employers to provide paid sick leave, also appears to be gaining traction, particularly in the face of lobbying efforts in many states to pass laws that would specifically preempt efforts by localities to require that employers provide paid sick leave.  Where has all this interest in paid sick leave come from?

Advocates of paid sick leave laws suggest that the laws are needed to assist workers in low-wage service-sector jobs, and workers in small businesses, who are often not provided with paid sick leave.  Because many of these workers cannot afford to take an unpaid sick leave, they frequently come into work sick, or send sick children to school and daycare since they cannot afford to take a day off to stay home with them.  Sick workers in service-sector jobs, such as the restaurant, hospitality, cleaning, and healthcare industries, infect customers, co-workers, and patients, ultimately increasing both the overall costs of healthcare, and the employer’s costs.  In addition, advocates note that sick employees are far more likely to have workplace accidents, the costs of which are borne by their employers.

Opponents of paid sick leave laws assert that it will impose an untenable cost on service businesses and small companies.  They argue that service businesses will likely have to pay overtime to employees who are covering sick employees’ shifts, and that small businesses have thin margins and cannot afford increased costs.  They argue that paid sick leave laws result in employers cutting benefits, raising prices, and laying off employees, and add that the administrative costs of such laws are extremely burdensome.

So, what does the paid sick leave movement mean for your company?

If you are a larger company, it may very well mean nothing at all.  Many larger companies already provide paid time off, which employees may use for paid sick days.  In fact, a larger company may be in favor of the paid sick leave movement, because the laws would put all companies on a level playing ground on that area of cost.

If the majority of your employees are salaried, you also may not see much of a change arising from the new paid sick leave laws.  Because salaried employees are not paid on an hourly basis, and because most salaried employees are already provided with paid time off, the paid sick leave laws are not likely to change salaried employees’ behavior.

If, on the other hand, you are an employer who has not provided paid sick leave to your employees in the past, you will want to consult your attorney to ensure that you take the necessary steps to comply with any new paid sick leave law.  You will need to revamp your bookkeeping systems to keep track of when employees accrue—and take—paid sick time.  You will also have to put systems in place so that you can fulfill your business functions when an employee takes paid sick leave.  This may mean, for instance, having a method for contacting your other employees about scheduling overtime, or having an on-call list of workers.  You will also want to revise your employee handbook to accurately state your paid time off policies, including (if your jurisdiction permits) whether and when you will request a doctor’s verification for the requested leave.

These new laws can certainly be a challenge, but no more than careful HR professionals can handle…