New Leave Laws Impact Employee Handbooks: Five Key Facts

As we say hello to 2015, a number of new leave laws may have a significant impact on employee handbooks. If you have not updated your handbook in the past year or two, chances are it is not compliant with the latest laws on leave and time off. Here are five key leave trends affecting employers.


1. All Types of Leave

Over 30 new laws providing distinct leave took effect in 2014 or have been adopted and will go into effect in 2015 in various states and municipalities. These laws cover all types of leave and vary markedly from state to state or city to city.

In fact, over half of the states have on average five distinct leave laws and many states require that employers provide eight or more types of leave. Massachusetts and New York have over 10 distinct leave laws and California has over 15 separate leave laws.

From parental and caregiver leave to paid sick leave to bereavement leave, more states are requiring employers to provide time off for employees to take care of themselves and their families. States are advancing the rights of domestic violence and sexual assault victims by providing them with leave to receive treatment, tend to their injuries and attend court hearings. Some states also provide leave for employees to serve as volunteer firefighters or emergency responders, reserve police officers or emergency rescue workers. Additionally, several states permit employees to take leave to attend school conferences and school-related activities for their children.

Employers must be mindful that the time off permitted, eligibility requirements and employer coverage vary under each state law and make sure to comply with the latest legal requirements.

2. Municipalities Lead the Way

Multistate employers should be aware it’s not just the states that are requiring leave. The movement toward paid sick leave began in the cities with San Francisco, New York City, Portland and Seattle passing some of the first paid sick leave ordinances. To date, several New Jersey cities have passed similar paid sick leave laws, for example:

• Jersey City;
• Newark; and
• Trenton.

A big challenge with these municipal leave laws is their overlap with any state and
federal requirements and how to manage conflicting coverage and eligibility requirements.

3. Smaller Employers Too

Unlike discrimination laws, which may require employers to have certain employee
thresholds for compliance, many state leave laws apply to small employers and may
even apply to employers with just one employee! This can prove difficult if an employer needs to find coverage while an employee is taking the protected leave.

4. Interaction Between Laws

With the expanding number of required leaves an employer must provide, whether paid
or unpaid, employers need to determine how federal, state and local laws work together
and how they interact with the employer’s longstanding policies.

Under some laws, an employer’s provision of paid time off (PTO), vacation or personal time may already comply with state or local leave mandates. Employers should make sure they have systems in place with regard to time, payroll and benefits that properly track and calculate any leave time that has accrued and been used. Since understanding how these laws work together is a challenging task, it may be advisable to consult legal counsel for this complex assessment.

5. Be Careful of Notice Provisions

Most new leave laws include new posting and notification requirements. For example, many paid sick leave laws require special notification by employers. There are also notice provisions required by laws providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees including leave. It is critical for employers to comply with the law and make sure they properly notify employees of any leave to which they may be entitled.

XpertHR has developed a 50-state Employee Handbooks tool that is authored by attorneys at Littler Mendelson, the largest US law firm exclusively representing management in labor and employment law. The Employee Handbooks tool covers leave laws on the federal level and all 50 states as well as other issues affecting the workplace.

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