If a Connecticut employer does not already provide paid sick leave to its employees, it may now be required to do so. On June 8, 2011, Governor Daniel Malloy signed into law An Act Mandating Employers Provide Paid Sick Leave To Employees (the "Bill"), Public Act No. 11-52, which made Connecticut the first state in the nation to require that employers provide "service workers" with paid sick leave. Beginning on January 1, 2012, the Bill requires certain employers with fifty or more employees in the state to provide "service workers" with forty hours of paid sick leave a year. The Bill broadly defines service workers and is expected to cover an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 employees in Connecticut. The Bill includes very broad anti-retaliation provisions which protect not only service workers but rather all employees seeking paid sick leave pursuant to a Company policy. Therefore, if an employer with 50 or more employees has a paid sick leave policy, they too are prohibited from retaliating against any employee who requests sick leave pursuant to that policy.

Connecticut Employers Required to Provide Paid Sick Leave

The Bill applies to any person, firm, business, educational institution, nonprofit agency, corporation, limited liability company or other entity. However, certain manufacturing entities and tax-exempt nationally chartered organizations which provide services in recreation, child care, and education are exempt. As such, the Bill applies to most employers in Connecticut who employ fifty or more individuals in the state.

"Service Worker" Defined

The Bill broadly defines "service worker" as an hourly nonexempt employee who is primarily engaged in one of the following occupational areas: Hospitality, Healthcare, Retail, Administrative Support, Food Preparation, Personal Transportation, and Health & Beauty. A full list of all specific job occupations can be found on our Wage and Hour Litigation blog.

When Can A Service Worker Use Paid Sick Leave?

The Bill permits a service worker to use paid sick leave (i) for his or her own illness, injury or health condition; (ii) for his or her child's or spouse's illness, injury or health condition, or (iii) where he or she is a victim of family violence or sexual assault, to seek medical care or counseling; to obtain services from a victim services organization; to relocate due to the assault; or to participate in any civil or criminal proceedings related to the assault.

Service Worker and Employer Notification Requirements

A covered employer in Connecticut must provide notice to each service worker upon hiring that they are entitled to paid sick leave, that the employer will not retaliate against them for requesting such leave and that they have a right to file a complaint with the Connecticut Labor Commissioner for any violations. A company may display a poster, written in both English and Spanish, in a conspicuous place to satisfy these obligations.

An employer may require a service worker to provide up to seven days of advance notice if the leave is foreseeable, and if not, it may require notice as soon as possible. For paid sick leave that lasts three or more consecutive days, an employer may require reasonable documentation from a health care provider, court record or victim services organization.

Paid Sick Leave Accrual and Pay Rate

An employer must provide one hour of paid sick leave for each forty hours worked, up to a maximum of forty hours per calendar year. Service workers are entitled to carry over up to forty hours of paid sick leave from year to year but they cannot use more than forty hours in a calendar year.

An employer must pay a service worker their accrued sick leave once they have completed 680 hours of employment from their date of hire, unless the employer agrees to an earlier date. However, an employer need not pay such sick leave if the service worker did not work an average of 10 or more hours a week in the most recent calendar quarter.

When a service worker requests sick leave, an employer must now pay him/her the greater of their normal hourly wage or the state minimum wage at the time they use their sick leave.

Unlike vacation pay, an employer need not pay service workers for their unused accrued sick leave when it terminates them unless the employer has a Company policy or collective bargaining agreement which provides for such payment. If an employer terminates a service worker, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, it is considered a break in service. If the employer later rehires them, it need not recognize any previously accrued unused hours of paid sick leave unless it has agreed to do so.

Anti-Retaliation Provision Applies Not Only to Service Workers But All Employees

The Bill prohibits an employer from retaliating against service workers who request paid sick leave but it also protects all employees, even those who are not service workers, if they request leave pursuant to the Company's paid sick leave policy. Any employee who files a complaint with the Connecticut Labor Commissioner alleging violations of the Bill is also protected.

Employers Face Civil Penalties For Violations

If an employer fails to provide the requisite sick leave, it will incur a civil penalty of up to $100 for each violation, and if an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the statute, it will incur a civil penalty of $500 for each violation.

Employer Exemption

If, however, an employer already offers its Connecticut employees at least forty hours of any "other paid leave" that may be used in lieu of sick leave like paid vacation, personal days or paid time off, it will be exempted from providing any additional paid sick leave.

Practical Considerations

Employers with facilities in Connecticut that have fifty or more employees there should immediately amend their personnel policies and procedures to ensure that they begin compensating for sick leave by January 1, 2012. Even if an employer does not employ anyone who falls within the broad definition of "service worker," but has its own paid sick leave policy, it should make sure it does not retaliate against employees who request or use such paid leave.