Do you have sick leave and attendance policies? I hope so. Do you provide Paid Time Off (PTO)? Again, I hope so. Are you allowed to limit how much time off an employee takes or uses? Yes, within reasonable limits, and depending on whether any federal, state or local laws have something to say on the matter. What happens when an employee violates your policies? Can you discipline the employee? Again, the general rule is yes, providing your discipline doesn’t violate applicable federal, state or local laws.
You likely already know that under the FMLA, a federal law, you must allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks’ unpaid job-protected leave to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition or for pregnancy/childbirth or to bond with a newborn baby or newly-placed foster or adoptive child. You probably also know that under the ADA/ADAAA leave may be a reasonable accommodation of a disability, which effectively means an employee not eligible for FMLA leave (or who has used up his/her 12 weeks under FMLA) may also be entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave. Those are federal laws. Currently 7 states plus the District of Columbia have paid family leave laws. Approximately 11 states plus the District of Columbia have paid sick leave laws.
We’re not done yet. A number of counties and municipalities also have paid sick leave laws. Paid sick leave laws typically provide that employees over a certain period of time accrue up to a certain amount of paid sick days a year. Typically it’s five days, but it varies by location. Employees who need time off to deal with sickness that isn’t quite serious enough to warrant a family medical leave are able to use these paid sick days. Employers with employees in any location with paid sick leave laws must make sure their policies provide their employees at least as many paid sick days as the law requires.
Here is where American Airlines experienced some turbulence of its own making. The New York City Department of Consumer Worker Protection just sued American Airlines for alleged violations of its paid sick leave law. American Airlines allegedly retaliated against 750 ground crew workers who used paid sick time by assigning disciplinary points for each sick day they took, and also failed to pay it at the required rate. That’s not all. The City says that the airline in some cases did not allow employees to use their paid sick time at all, and in other cases, illegally required advance notice for leaves shorter than 3 days and did not provide their employees a Notice of Employee Rights as required under the law. The City is now seeking $375,000 in restitution for the ground crew workers, in addition to civil penalties.
What’s the big takeaway from this case? Check and comply with the laws in each location where you have people working. It’s not enough to comply only the federal laws, or only the laws of the state where your company headquarters are located. In some cases it’s not even enough to include laws of all states in which your employees work. In many instances, counties and municipalities have also passed laws intended to protect employees. Then review your policies and update them accordingly. Ignoring those laws can spell trouble for you as it has for American Airlines. Let’s learn from them, shall we? That’s all I’ve got for now, so I’ll keep it (relatively) short and sweet. Bye for now!
Watch my first of two television interviews on Stop My Crisis with Vivian Gaspar.
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