There is a great deal of legislation addressing workplace concerns in Congress currently. Two bills directly impacting the leave policies of employers are working their way through the legislative pipeline. Both of the bills described below mandate paid leave for employees in certain situations and deserve monitoring and attention from employers.
Emergency Influenza Containment Act
On November 3, 2009, the Emergency Influenza Containment Act (“EICA”)(HR 3991), was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Should EICA become the law of the land, it would be effective no later than fifteen (15) days after the date of enactment and would expire after two years. Moreover, the EICA specifically applies to “influenza-like-illnesses such as the novel H1N1 virus.”
EICA seeks to provide an employee with up to five (5) days of paid sick leave per twelve (12) month period when the employer “directs an employee to leave work or not to come in to work because the employer believes the employee has symptoms of a contagious illness, or has been in close contact with an individual who has symptoms of a contagious illness . . . .” Under EICA, a failure to provide the mandated paid sick leave is considered a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the employer will be considered to have willfully failed to pay minimum wage to the affected employee.
Under the EICA, employers would be prohibited from firing, disciplining, or retaliating against workers who comply with the employer’s directive to stay home or not come to work. However, the bill permits the employer to cut short an employee’s paid sick leave allotment by notifying the employee of its belief that he or she can return to work.
The EICA would apply to businesses with fifteen (15) or more employees, and is available to both full- and part-time employees. Covered employees would be entitled to an amount of paid sick leave calculated based on the employee’s regular rate of pay and scheduled hours of work. Employers with less than fifteen (15) employees and companies that already provide five or more paid sick days per year would be exempt from the EICA.
Happy Families Act
In June of this year, I wrote a short piece on this legislation. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460/S. 1152). This legislation would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven paid sick days each year. In addition to time off for an employee’s own — or a family member’s — physical or mental illness, injury, medical condition, or preventive care, the Healthy Families Act also would provide paid sick time for absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employees would be entitled to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a total accrual of 56 hours — or seven days — of paid sick time. Employees would begin accruing hours as soon as they start working for a covered employer and could begin using the accrued time 60 days from their first day of work.
While the Healthy Families Act has been stalled for the past few months, I anticipate that the EICA should move more quickly through the legislative process as a result of mounting concerns regarding influenza-related illnesses. I will work hard to keep you informed on the status of these important intiatives. Let me know if you have questions.