Winston Churchill and Paid Sick Leave


When I saw this Churchill quote, naturally I thought of paid sick leave. No question, the patchwork of forty or so PSL laws creates intense complexities. But where are the “intense simplicities” that are to emerge?

In your quest for intense simplicity, consider that it might emerge from the “safe harbor” provision, which is in every PSL law. While the specific words of the “safe harbor” provisions vary among the laws, they say, generally, that if an employer already provides sick leave that accrues at least as quickly as required under the law, and can be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as required by the law, an employer is in compliance. More simply, if an employer already provides what the law requires, the employer need not provide a second helping of paid sick leave.

Most PSL laws allow an employee to accrue between 40 and 72 hours of sick time annually, which translates to 5 to 9 eight hour days. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Studies, 80% of private sector employees already receive 5-9 days of sick leave after one year of employment and 92% of private sector employees have at least 5 days of vacation after one year. Employers that offer consolidated leave plans, e.g., PTO, provide about 14 days of paid time off after one year. These BLS reports suggest that at least 80% of employers may already provide the required amount of paid sick time. However, those employers may need to tweak their policies before dropping anchor in the PSL “safe harbor.”

What tweaks might such an employer need to consider?

Eliminating the waiting period before accrual of paid time off begins.

Allowing part time employees to accrue paid time off.

Ensuring the list of purposes for which an employee may take paid sick time includes all of the purposes required in the applicable PSL laws.

Satisfying notice requirements. There will be a notice to post. Some jurisdictions require periodic reports of time accrued and available.

Dealing with the carryover issue. All jurisdictions require carryover of accrued but unused time but some offer options, such as front-loading or end-of-year buyout.

Given each PSL law’s unique provisions, other tweaks may be necessary. But with the necessary tweaks, it seems that more than 80% of employers can navigate their way to the PSL safe harbor.  Some might say that the required tweaking negates any semblance of “intense simplicity.” That may be but it might be the most intense simplicity that emerges.