In yet another example of how the legislative landscape has changed for employers since the 2008 election, two pieces of legislation recently introduced in Congress would require employers to provide paid leave for their employees. On May 18, 2009, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the "Healthy Families Act" (H.R. 2460) in the House. The Act would provide workers with up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. A few days later, on May 21, 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) introduced the "Paid Vacation Act" (H.R. 2564), which would make paid vacation for employees a requirement under federal law.

The Healthy Families Act would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, to a maximum of 56 hours per year. Employees would begin accruing sick leave on their first day of employment and would become eligible to use the accrued time after 60 days of employment. Employees could carry over unused sick time from one year to the next, but accrual would be capped at 56 hours. Employers could allow workers to accrue sick leave in excess of 56 hours per year, but the bill does not require them to do so.

Paid sick time earned by an employee could be used for absences resulting from any of the following reasons: (1) an employee's own physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition; (2) obtaining a professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventive medical care, for the employee; (3) care for a child, a parent, a spouse or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship; and (4) domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking (if the time is used to seek assistance). An employer could require that a request for paid sick time in excess of three days be supported by medical certification. Employers would have to post a notice in the workplace describing employee rights and remedies under the Act.

The Paid Vacation Act would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to require companies with at least 100 employees to offer at least one week of paid vacation annually to "eligible employees" (i.e., anyone employed for at least 12 months who worked at least 1,250 hours -- or an average of 25 hours per week -- during the prior 12-month period). Three years after enactment of the legislation, companies with at least 100 employees would have to offer eligible employees at least two weeks of paid vacation, and companies with at least 50 employees would have to provide eligible employees with at least one paid week off. Paid vacation would be in addition to sick leave and any other leave mandated by law, and would be taken in a continuous series or block of work days comprising seven calendar days. Employees could not roll over vacation from year to year; instead they would have to use the vacation time within the applicable 12-month period.  

The bill would require employees to provide at least 30 days notice of their intention to take vacation before it commences; however, the bill, as presently written, does not give employers the right to reject the timing of vacation based upon, for example, scheduling issues. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Labor to conduct a public awareness campaign regarding employee rights under the Act, as well as to conduct a study on workplace productivity and the Act's effect on productivity.

A version of the Healthy Families Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.) on May 21. Meanwhile, the Paid Vacation Act has been referred to the House Education and Labor Committee.

Many employers have become used to providing unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; however, the Healthy Families Act and Paid Vacation Act represent an entirely new kind of workplace mandate. While many larger employers provide sick leave and vacation benefits, they typically limit those kinds of benefits to full-time employees. The added costs to large employers of having to provide such benefits to part-time workers, and the costs to smaller employers of providing sick leave benefits, could prove to be a significant economic burden, especially in these tough economic times. Employers concerned about the impact of leave mandates on their workforce should monitor developments regarding these bills closely as they proceed through Congress.