On September 19, 2017, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed The Health and Safe Families and Workplace Act (the “Act”), House Bill 5413B and Senate Bill 0290B, respectively, guaranteeing roughly 90 percent of the state’s workforce the opportunity to earn paid sick and safe leave. The Governor has already indicated that she will sign the Act into law, after which Rhode Island will join seven states and the District of Columbia that have passed paid sick leave legislation. The Act is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2018.

In essence, the Act requires that employers in Rhode Island that employ 18 or more employees provide their employees with three days of paid sick or safe leave in 2018, four days in 2019, and five days in 2020. Specifically, such employees must accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick and safe leave time for every 35 hours worked, up to a maximum of 24 hours in 2018, 32 hours in 2019, and 40 hours in 2020. Employees who are exempt from overtime requirements under the FLSA are presumed to work 40 hours per week for purposes of the Act, unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours.

Employers must permit employees to carry over their earned but unused paid sick and safe leave time to the following calendar year. Or, in lieu of carryover, employers may pay their employees for such earned but unused time at the end of the year and also provide their employees with an amount of paid sick and safe leave that meets the requirements of the Act that is immediately available at the beginning of the subsequent year. So, if an employer wishes to pay its employees for their earned but unused time at the end of 2018, instead of permitting them to carry that time into 2019, the employer must provide its employees with 32 hours of paid sick and safe leave at the beginning of 2019.

Employees may use this sick and safe leave in a variety of common circumstances, such as:

  • their own mental or physical illness, or need for diagnosis, (preventative) care, or treatment;
  • their care for a family member’s mental or physical illness, or care for family member who is in need of diagnosis (preventative) care, or treatment;
  • the closure of their place of business or their child’s school due to a public health emergency; or,
  • time off needed when they or a member of their family is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

While employers that already provide their employees with opportunities to accrue paid sick and safe leave in excess of the accrual requirements under the Act are exempt from the Act’s accrual-specific portions, such employers still must ensure that they permit their employees to use paid sick and safe leave in a manner that complies with the Act. In this regard, an employer who already offers five days of paid sick leave to its employees for employee-related illness must also permit the employee to use the leave in instances related to, for example, the illness of the employee’s child or a domestic violence incident that involves the employee.

The language of the Act also contains other specific requirements pertaining to, among other things, notice and documentation requirements, confidentiality, civil penalties for non-compliance with the Act, and accrual schedules.