connecticut-state-seal-plaque_m.jpgAuthored by Michael Fleischer

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, Public Act No. 11-52, which made Connecticut the first state in the nation to require that employers provide a “service worker” with paid sick leave.  The new law is expected to cover an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 employees in Connecticut.  

Beginning on January 1, 2012, the new law requires most employers with fifty or more employees in the state to provide a “service worker” with forty hours of paid sick leave a year. Exemptions are made for certain manufacturing entities and tax-exempt nationally chartered organizations which provide services in recreation, child care, and education.

The law broadly defines a “service worker” as a 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 in Section 1 (7).

The law permits a service worker to use their paid sick leave in three different scenarios: (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.

Obligations For Both Employers and Service Workers

Employers are also required to notify service workers of the new law.  Upon hiring, a covered employer is obligated to inform their service workers 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.

In return, 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.

How Does the Sick Leave Accrue?

The law mandates that employers 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.

In order to receive their accrued sick leave, a service worker must first complete 680 hours of employment from their date of hire, unless the employer agrees to an earlier date.  However, an employer is exempted from paying 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.

Sick Leave Payment

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.

However, 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 law’s anti-retaliation provision is extremely far-reaching.  It not only 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 law 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” which 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.

Employers that maintain facilities in Connecticut with fifty or more employees 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.