The Paid Sick Leave Patchwork Comes to Congress

A few months shy of five years ago, I predicted in a blog post the development of the paid sick leave patchwork . I wrote then:

If you look out toward the leave-and-attendance legislation horizon, and you might have to squint a bit but not much, you can see yet another patchwork beginning to take shape. This one is on paid sick days. Multi-state employers need to watch this carefully since it is certainly heading for full-fledged “patchwork” status which, when combined with the patchworks of family and medical laws, pregnancy leave laws and disability discrimination laws, makes one mega-leave-and-attendance-patchwork!

The now full-fledged PSL patchwork has arrived in the hallowed halls of Congress. Two days ago, a House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on workplace leave policies. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) acknowledged the patchwork:

… there has been a significant increase in new and oftentimes conflicting state and local paid leave mandates. This growing patchwork of mandates across multiple jurisdictions creates a real administrative and implementation burden, particularly on small businesses, while also increasing compliance costs for employers.

The Statement of the Chamber of Commerce aptly described “the uncoordinated patchwork of requirements that exists today.” According to its Statement:

…these various state and local paid sick leave laws are all different. They specify different levels of leave and include varying employee eligibility rules and the minimum amount of compensation to be paid. The permissible reasons for taking leave also vary. The laws define covered family members in different ways. … Typically, each law has different rules regarding frontloading, carryover, documentation and notification requirements. There also are different accrual rates. Combined, it is – to say the least – a complex obstacle course for employers, particularly multistate employers

escape silhouette-1536641_1920While the hearing focused on the broad topic of leave policies, it was prompted by the introduction of H.R. 4219, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, which has been referred to the Subcommittee. That act would allow employers to escape the PSL patchwork by modifying ERISA to preempt state and local PSL laws for employers who voluntary agree to provide a defined amount of paid time off and some workplace flexibility. My post on that Act is here.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Walberg noted that among the questions the Subcommittee needs to consider is whether it can develop “productive paid time off legislation that fosters good relations between employees and employers, while not violating our constitutional federalism in regards to the state and local primacy.”