It's hardly a news flash that paid sick leave regulations are going to affect your business in the next six months. Here's a sampling of what's already happened on a national level in 2015:
- On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama explicitly cited paid sick leave in his State of the Union Address, saying, "Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave.... And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let's put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave."
- On Feb. 12, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced bills (S. 497 and H.R. 932) which would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of paid sick leave each year. The House bill is currently with three different committees. The Senate bill is with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Moreover, there are already state and local paid sick leave laws in San Francisco, New York City, and Connecticut. New regulations in California and Massachusetts go into effect in July 2015. And, as Claire Zillman notes in Fortune, this is just the start: Tacoma and Philadelphia have new laws too. And on Tuesday, Feb. 24, Chicagoans voted on a referendum.
Get the picture? It's a thorny patch for any human resources department to contend with, let alone the small or outsourced HR department of a growing company. Laura P. Worsinger, senior counsel at Dykema Gossett LLP in Los Angeles, has been helping clients large and small handle their compliance headaches. She spoke to Inc. about the first steps businesses should take:
1. Learn the details of your current policy.
Even if you offer a generous paid sick leave policy, you still might not be in compliance with the high volume of new state and local regulations.
"The California requirements are so specific and onerous," says Worsinger. "It blows you away, even if you already have policies in place."
For example, your current policy might not extend to part-time employees--or contract workers who are only on board for short-term projects. But the California law "applies to both exempt and non-exempt employees, whether full-time, part-time, or temporary, who work in California for 30 or more days within a year from the commencement of employment," notes a Dykema summary.
In addition, the law applies to employers of all sizes, including nonprofits. And it doesn't matter where your company is headquartered. If you have even one California-based employee (and remember, in this case, "employee" is a broadly-defined term), you need to comply.
All of which is why Worsinger's first step is to "take a look at your current policy and compare that to what the law says you need to be doing."
2. See what large companies do--and model their approaches.
"It might be prudent to try piggybacking or modeling what larger clients do," says Worsinger.
The idea here is straightforward. Global companies with U.S. employees have the most to lose, in fines and reputation damage, from non-compliance. They also have the budgets and human resources staffs to stay on top of all the new laws and criss-crossing regulations.
So, let the large companies be the first-movers, in terms of policy revisions. Then, both you and your attorneys can use those approaches as potential templates for your own. Your attorneys will work faster, since it won't be their first or second attempt reviewing and updating an existing policy for compliance with myriad, multifaceted new laws.
"The more familiar I'm getting with [the California] law," says Worsinger, "the better and faster I'm getting at picking through employer policies."
Of course, there's a fine line to walk here. You should not interpret this tip as a euphemism for "sit back and do nothing and see what happens." As an employer, you still need to take two immediate actions: learning the details of your current policy and monitoring multiple levels of government (national, state, city) for laws and deadlines pertaining to your company.
3. Err on the side of overpreparing.
Even if your current policies pass muster, you still have to comply with new record-keeping and employee-notification requirements (including the proper posting of your policies).
Here's the good news: Worsinger estimates a proper compliance checkup would take "at the very most two [billable] hours." No, that's not cheap, but it's far from unreasonable, given that non-compliance fines can be steep. In California, for example, they can reach $4,000 per employee.
Many startups and growing companies outsource their human resources function. Worsinger warns that merely outsourcing your HR isn't a guarantee of compliance--even if those providers of payroll and HR services pledge their policies are on the up-and-up.
"I'm sorry to say I've seen some of the advice they've given out is not up to snuff," says Worsinger. "I don't know if I would trust them on something like this because it's so complicated."
Adding to how complex the topic can be is something Fortune's Zillman calls a "counter trend spreading across the country." That trend? State laws whose purpose is to preempt and supersede any paid sick leave legislation that city governments within these states pass. Eleven states have passed these laws so far: Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Wisconsin.
These state laws are not paid sick leave laws per se. They are measures that bar cities within these states from passing their own paid sick leave laws. So, for now, if you're in these 11 states, you actually don't have to worry about new paid sick leave laws for your employees within those states. Unless or until the federal law changes.
Add it all up, and you can only reach one conclusion: stay alert. Laws are changing all over the country, and seemingly every day. Which means, generous though it may be, your paid sick leave policy will probably be changing soon too.