Although Georgia still lags behind states that mandate paid sick leave, certain Georgia employees will now be able to use some of some of their paid sick leave to care for a qualifying family member without fear of reprisal. Under Georgia’s new Family Care Act, which was signed into law on May 8, 2017 and goes into effect on July 1, 2017, employers with 25 or more employees that provide paid sick leave must allow employees who work at least 30 hours per week to use up to five days of their paid sick leave per calendar year to care for an immediate family member. The Act defines immediate family members as an employee’s child, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, parent, or any dependent shown on the employee’s most recent tax return.
The Family Care Act does not mandate that employers provide paid sick leave nor does it require employers to allow employees to use sick leave until it has actually been earned. In addition, an employer may still require employees to comply with the terms of its sick leave policy. Although the State of Georgia and its political subdivisions are covered by this Act, employers that offer an employee stock ownership plan are excluded from coverage. Only time will tell how effective the Family Care Act will be since it does not provide employees with a cause of action against employers, does not provide any enforcement provisions, and will be automatically repealed on July 1, 2020, unless the General Assembly chooses to extend the Act.
Nevertheless, Georgia employers who offer paid sick leave should not only review and, if necessary, update those policies prior to July 1st, but also should consider training their Human Resources and/or benefits staff to ensure they fully understand the employer’s obligations under the Act. Significantly, an employer that provides paid-time-off (PTO) that can be used for any reason is likely already in compliance with the Act. However, employers should consider consulting their employment counsel for assistance in determining how the Family Care Act affects their existing sick leave or PTO policies as well as the Act’s potential interplay with federal Family and Medical Leave Act.