Paid Sick Leave Prominent in State of the Union Address

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

January 21, 2015

In last night's State of the Union address, President Obama called upon Congress to pass a law that would require most employers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave. "We're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers," Obama said. "Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave."

Obama's proposal would require all employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave per year to employees to care for a sick family member, attend medical appointments or seek assistance for a domestic violence issue. The Healthy Families Act would let workers earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

On January 15, the President signed an executive order directing federal government agencies to provide up to six weeks of paid sick leave to federal workers with a new child. That order applies to the birth or adoption of a child or other eligible uses of sick leave.

In the State of the Union, Obama said he would be taking new action to encourage states to adopt their own paid sick leave laws. This includes proposing more than $2 billion in new funds to develop such programs.

He also urged Congress to propose a paid sick leave law covering private employers, and referred to a law that Massachusetts voters passed last November. Thus far, three states and 16 cities have passed paid sick leave laws. However, the passage of such a measure at the federal level is considered unlikely.

In other employment-related comments, President Obama renewed his call to increase the federal minimum wage and also noted that the country still needs to make sure employees are actually paid the overtime wages they have earned. He added that Congress needs to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills in this 21st century economy.

Finally, Obama said, "To every CEO in America, if you want somebody who's going to do the job and do it right, hire a veteran." That was the one work-related line in the speech that drew universal applause from Republicans and Democrats alike.