The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed rule that requires federal contractors and subcontractors to provide workers with seven days of paid sick leave on an annual basis. The proposed rule, released on Feb. 25, was created in response to President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13706, which directed the DOL to issue and finalize regulations this year.

The proposed rule is projected to extend paid sick leave to more than 800,000 employees, 400,000 of which don’t currently receive any paid sick leave, within a five-year period, according to DOL estimates.

Although the DOL has extended the comments period on the proposed rule through April 12, employers and human resources professionals should start preparing for implementation. Here are three things companies can do to prepare:

1. Review and revise policies

HR professionals should compare their employer’s existing policies with the proposed rule to see where revisions are needed. Employers may find that the changes are not as drastic as expected, and they can plan for changes in existing policies to comply with the proposed rule.

For example, the proposed federal rule explains that existing sick leave policies can be used to satisfy the new requirements if they provide at least as much paid time off (i.e., 56 hours a year), and allow the employee to use the existing time off for the reasons covered by the new rule. Many employers likely already have similar policies in place, especially if they have employees in states and municipalities that currently require paid time off for attending to family illnesses, or if the employee has been a victim of domestic violence, including California, Connecticut, Philadelphia, New York City and Seattle, among others.

2. Track and evaluate employee reasons

Employers should also confirm that they are tracking the reasons why employees are taking time off from work. This is already important in terms of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and corresponding state laws, and will make it easier to comply with the record keeping obligations under the new law. We often find that records may inaccurately report that the employee took vacation when the time was actually taken due to an employee’s illness or to care for a sick family member.

3. Document and verify

The proposed rule allows employers to require certification from an employee’s health care provider attesting to the need for leave if the employee is/was absent for three or more consecutive full work days, as is done in the context of FMLA leave or when providing time off as a reasonable accommodation under disability laws. That will help to prevent any possible misuse of the benefit.

Existing leave laws and the proposed rule also require employees to give as much advance notice as practicable regarding the need for paid time off. Employers should require compliance with reasonable “call-out” policies to minimize the disruption caused by absences covered by applicable leave laws.

The future of paid sick leave

While it is possible that this proposed rule may not come to fruition following the presidential election in November, it is indicative of a larger national push for paid sick leave. We are seeing a trend towards allowing employees to use sick time for reasons covered by this proposed new rule, such as care of family members. We are also seeing a trend in employers adopting general ‘PTO’ or paid time off policies that combine days off for personal time, such as attending a child’s school function or a routine doctor appointment, with vacation time and sick time.

With many state and local governments already leaning towards adding paid sick leave benefits, it would be wise for federal contractors and subcontractors to review their policies and make sure they are in compliance with this proposed rule.