Newark is set to join the likes of several other large cities that require employers with 10 or more employees to offer paid sick time.
The Newark ordinance signed by Mayor Luis Quintana in late January mirrors recent efforts in Jersey City, N.J. and New York City. According to the statute, effective June 21, all employers will need to provide up to five days of paid sick leave per year to employees that have worked up to 80 hours within city limits.
The ordinance is geared toward making sure that employees can maintain a source of income during these unpredicted absences. But it may force Newark-based employers to foot a larger bill for the recordkeeping and HR tasks associated with the law, according to John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, an association comprised of more than 1,000 employers that vary from small, family-owned business to large multinational companies.
Many of them [the small employers] have poor recordkeeping, and they employ contingent workers, part-time workers, seasonal workers, and employees come and go, and so theres not a big emphasis on recordkeeping, Sarno tells EBN. I think the ordinance really requires that additional administrative task, which can be burdensome to a small employer that hasnt had to think about this.
James P. Walsh, Jr., a partner in Morgan, Lewis & Bockius labor and employment practice, agrees that the administration can be a burden. He adds that paid time-off banks, a mechanism used by employers to pull together all vacation, sick and personal days into a single pool for employees, will have to be thoroughly tracked due to the new law.
Some of the things that employers are concerned about are the practical implications of the Newark law for instance the recordkeeping requirement and the fact that some employers have PTO banks that employees can use regardless of the reason, Walsh explains. Many employers do not track the reason why leave has been taken, but under the Newark paid leave law, an employer has to be able to show the enforcing agency the number of hours that have been worked, and the reason for the leave.
According to the Newark law prohibits retaliation against employees for asking for, or using, sick time. But Sarno says this line can be blurred, indicating a need for employers to figure out how best to comply and, at the same time, protect themselves.
The thing that bothers me is whether an employer is going to be able to discharge someone that is chronically absent or late, Sarno explains. My concern is that ordinance might create an exception to the [employment] at-will rule, where an employer might find it difficult to discipline or fire an at-will employee.
It is unclear what the full impact of the law will be, but Sarno believes many employers may need to simply tweak their current policies in order to at least satisfy the ordinance.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states offer paid family and medical leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Also, Connecticut is the only state that has required employers offer paid sick leave to employees.
I think the trend is that legislatures are concerned with the burden on employees who are becoming sick, Walsh explains. You are relieving some of the burden from employees who become sick and who dont have paid leave and therefore [have to] go without pay.
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