On March 20, 2013, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (“the Act”) to the United States Senate (S. 631) and House of Representative (bill number not yet available). Several iterations of the Act have failed to garner sufficient support in Congress since Representative DeLauro and Senator Edward Kennedy introduced the original version in 2004. But if passed, the Act would require employers with more than 15 employees to provide their workforces with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked for up to 56 hours. S. 631 § 5(a)(1). The Senate Bill text is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/id/mroe-95ysa4/$File/Healthy%20Families%20Act.pdf.
Absences covered under the Act include an employee’s own “physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition . . . .” S. 631 § 5(b)(1). Paid sick time is also afforded to “victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking . . . .” S. 631 § 5(b)(4). In addition, employees would be permitted to “car[e] for a child, a parent, a spouse, a domestic partner, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship . . . .” S. 631 § 5(b)(3). Notably, the language, “whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family member[,]” affords same-sex relationships protection under the Act, even absent a civil union or marriage.
The Act permits employers to require documentation from employees who wish to take sick leave for three consecutive days or more. S. 631 § 5(d)(2). In the case of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, employees would be permitted to provide a police report, court order, or similar documents, such as “documentation signed by [a] . . . volunteer working for victim services organizations[ or] a police officer . . . .” S. 631 § 5(d)(3).
In addition, the Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who use paid sick leave. Specifically, employers may not “discharge[e] or discriminat[e] against (including retaliating against) any individual, including a job applicant, for exercising, or attempting to exercise, any right provided under [the] Act . . . .” S. 631 § 7(a)(1)(A). In addition, the Act prohibits employers from using employee sick leave “as a negative factor in an employment action, such as hiring, promotion, or disciplinary action.” S. 631 § 7(a)(1)(B). Further, employers would be prohibited from “counting the paid sick time under a no-fault attendance policy or any other absence control policy.” S. 631 § 7(a)(1)(C).
Finally, the Act requires employers to “post and keep posted a notice . . . setting forth excerpts from, or summaries of, the pertinent provisions of [the] Act . . . .” S. 631 § 6.
Proskauer will continue to monitor the progress of the Senate and House versions of the bill. Although passage seems unlikely in the current political environment, we will keep our readers apprised if the Healthy Families Act appears to be gaining momentum. Should either version of the Act pass, employers will have new responsibilities and obligations to their employees. In the meanwhile, employers located in jurisdictions that previously imposed paid sick leave obligations including San Francisco, Washington, DC, Seattle and Portland, as well as the State of Connecticut, should ensure that all employment policies comply with local law.