Why it matters: The polls have closed and the votes are in: The midterm elections will have a significant impact on employers across the country as voters in multiple states embraced recent trends with regard to paid sick leave and increases in minimum wage. Massachusetts voters approved paid sick leave for workers in the state, joining a small but growing number of jurisdictions like California and cities including Portland, Newark, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Following another trend in employment law, minimum wage workers in Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, Oakland, San Francisco, and South Dakota will soon see a rise in pay. State legislatures from Delaware to California have recently increased the minimum wage and even President Barack Obama jumped on the bandwagon, issuing an executive order earlier this year to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Voters gave the nod to a record-breaking rate in San Francisco at $15 per hour, joining Seattle with the highest minimum wage rate in the country.
Joining California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and several cities, Massachusetts will become the third state to enact paid sick leave after voters approved the measure by 60 percent. The new law, set to take effect July 1, 2015, applies to all employers with 11 or more employees.
Employees can accrue one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours of work performed, regardless of whether the employee is a part-time worker. Each calendar year, an employee is entitled to use up to 40 hours of sick leave for three delineated reasons: to care for the employee’s immediate family member (defined as a child, spouse, parent, or parent-in-law) suffering from a physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition; to attend a routine medical appointment for the employee or an immediate family member; or to deal with legal, physical, or psychological effects of domestic violence on the employee or a child.
The Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Initiative provides that up to 40 hours of unused sick time may be rolled over into the following year but employers do not have to pay employees for unused earned sick time when their employment ends. Employers may require certification of the need to take earned sick time and when foreseeable, employees must provide advance notice of their need to take time. The law also contains several notice requirements.
All four states that placed the issue of a minimum wage increase on the ballot will see an increase as a result. In Alaska, the state’s wage will rise from $7.75 per hour to $9.75 by 2016, while Arkansas will jump from the current $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017. Nebraska will reach $9 per hour by 2016 (up from today’s $7.25), and South Dakota will see a $1.25 change from $7.25 to $8.50 next year, adjusted for inflation going forward.
Voters passed the measures by margins of 66 percent (Alaska), 65 percent (Arkansas), 59 percent (Nebraska) and 53 percent (South Dakota).
Illinois voters approved a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10. But the measure was nonbinding and will not change the law unless the state legislature acts upon it.
Municipalities also decided to raise local wages, led by San Francisco’s increase to $15 per hour. Currently set at $10.74 an hour, the increase will phase in by 2018. The city’s jump matches the record-high minimum wage recently set by Seattle, which will reach $15 per hour by 2017.
Other California cities considered a change in minimum wage with split results. Oakland voters approved an increase to $12.25, while Eureka’s attempt to jump to a $12 rate was rejected.