An Escape from the Paid Sick Leave Patchwork?

Imagine there’s no local, county or state paid sick leave laws. It isn’t hard to do,  if federal bill H.R. 4219, introduced last week, gets enacted. With the latest human resources portmanteau in its title, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act would expand ERISA preemption to annihilate the patchwork of paid sick leave laws for any employer who elects to opt out of those 40+ PSL laws by opting into this law. The ultimate PSL opt out!

How does an employer escape from the PSL patchwork? By voluntarily adopting a written “qualified flexible workplace arrangement” (QWFA) that provides the required minimum amount of “compensable leave” and by offering employees at least one of the listed “workflex options.”  ERISA would preempt state or local laws that relate to a QWFA plan with regard to employees covered by such an arrangement, according to the bill.

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The required amount of compensable leave varies depending on the size of the workforce and an employee’s length of service.  Employees with less than five years of service must receive from 12-16 days, depending on the workforce size. Those with longer service must receive from 14-20 days.  Leave is pro-rated for part-time employees. Unlimited PTO policies are “deemed” to satisfy the compensable leave requirement.   An employer can get credit toward these minimums for up to 6 paid state or federal holidays.

The QWFA must offer all employees at least one flexibility option though it need not be the same option for all employees.  An employee’s acceptance of the option is voluntary and the employee can withdraw from it. The choices are:

  • A biweekly work schedule of 80 hours over two weeks with the employee receiving overtime after those 80 hours rather than after 40 hours in a week (state and local laws that require an employer to pay overtime other than as set forth in this law for an 80 hour, two-week schedule would be preempted).
  • A “compressed work schedule” in which an employee works longer hours on fewer workdays, i.e., 4-10 hour shifts (here also, any state or local law that requires overtime for such a schedule other than as set forth in this law would be preempted).
  • Job sharing, in which a job is shared among two or more employees.
  • Flexible scheduling, in which an employee’s regular schedule is modified.
  • Predictable scheduling, in which an employer provides a work schedule “with reasonable advanced notice” that is subject to “as few alterations as are reasonably possible.”
  • Telework, allowing work to be done somewhere other than the normal place of business.

The bill has been referred to U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Given the political environment in our nation’s capital, a prediction about this or any other bill is pure speculation. But given the dramatic impact this bill would bring to American workplaces, for those in the leave management community, this is one to watch.

Note: For my paraphrasing of some popular lyrics in the first two sentences of this blog, thanks and a PSL hat-tip to John Lennon.