What to know as Arizona's mandatory paid sick-leave law takes effect
Arizona's new law mandating paid sick leave starts July 1, and employers had better be prepared for it.
Businesses and non-profit groups could face penalties for failing to keep adequate records or post sufficient notice, and they could incur damages for failing to provide paid sick time. Employers who retaliate against workers exercising their rights could face fines of at least $150 per day, say attorneys at Gallagher & Kennedy, a Phoenix law firm that held a workshop to alert employers of the requirements.
The law mandating as many as 40 hours of paid sick leave — which was approved by voters last November as part of the Proposition 206 package that also hiked the state's minimum wage — applies to virtually all businesses and non-profits with at least one Arizona employee. That includes entities not headquartered in the state.
The only exceptions involve people employed by Arizona's state government or the federal government, as well as sole proprietors.
All this means most Arizona workers — whether full-time or part-time, including temporary and seasonal staff — now will receive paid sick time. They will be able to use this benefit for a variety of reasons, with few questions asked.
The minimum requirements are 24 hours of paid sick time off annually for businesses with 14 or fewer workers, or 40 hours off for entities with 15 or more people. Employees begin accruing sick leave on the date they were hired or July 1, 2017, whichever is later. However, workers hired after July 1 might need to wait up to 90 days before using time off, said Jodi Bohr, an attorney at Gallagher & Kennedy.
Given the near-universality of the law and the fact many employers aren't well versed on the topic, sanctions await the unwary. That's in addition to possibly paying the fees of attorneys representing aggrieved workers.
"If they can prove $1 of unpaid sick time and if they prevail in a lawsuit, attorneys will get 100 percent of their fees," warned Donald Peder Johnsen of Gallagher & Kennedy. The ability to collect fees will give attorneys incentive to pursue cases, he added.
According to a new report, Most Americans support paid family and medical leave. Wochit
The basic provisions of the law were covered in a prior article in The Arizona Republic. Here are other details to note:
The law could force certain businesses to clarify whether their workers are independent contractors or employees.
It's not always clear whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Employees are entitled to receive paid sick-time off; contractors aren't. The general rule is that if you issue a W-2 to a worker, that person is an employee entitled to the benefit, said Bohr.
Employers have limited rights to ask workers why they're taking time off.
The law allows paid leave for various reasons besides an actual sickness or injury. Workers also may use sick leave for other problems, including those tied to domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking or the closing of a child's school owing to a public health emergency.
Acceptable reasons also can include taking time off to meet with an attorney, arrange shelter services or secure safe housing. Also, time can be used to deal with problems on behalf of family members. The definition of family members is quite broad, including siblings, grandparents, in-laws and others, said Johnsen.
An employer can request proof or documentation only after a worker has been absent three straight days.
When proof is required, it can come in many forms such as a doctor's note, a police report, a letter from an attorney or simply a worker's own statement that he or she needed time off.
"The documentation doesn't mean a big explanation of what happened to the employee — just that there was a need for leave," Johnsen said. Almost anything can qualify as valid documentation. "An employee's own signed statement is sufficient," he said.
At any rate, businesses can't request documentation or other proof until a worker has been absent for three straight days.
Employers generally will be required to grant time off.
While employers typically will need to grant time off when requested, workers must make "good faith" and "reasonable" efforts to give advance notice and not "unduly disrupt the operations" of a business or non-profit, Johnsen added.
The terms cited above haven't yet been defined and — like some other aspects of the law — might not be clarified for a year or two. In the meantime, Johnsen said he's advising employers to "err on the side of caution and give people time off."
Businesses will need to alert their staffs to the new law.
Under the new Arizona law, the amount of paid sick time required depends on how many employees a business or non-profit has. pack sick leave depends on the number of employees in the company. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Companies and non-profits must keep records of accrued time off for each worker and post notices of the new law in conspicuous places such as breakrooms. Employee paychecks or stubs should show the amount of paid sick time used so far, the amount available for use and that received as pay, if any. Employers must maintain records of paid sick time, accrued and used, for at least four straight years, Johnsen added.
Businesses should clarify policies in writing. For example, while the new law does not mandate that employees be paid for unused sick time when they leave or are fired, the employer's policy on this matter should be clearly stated in writing, Bohr said.
Penalties and damages await companies that ignore the new law.
Businesses that fail to meet their notice or recordkeeping requirements are subject to various penalties and damages. The Industrial Commission of Arizona is responsible for enforcing the law and providing guidance, and private lawsuits will provide another mechanism for enforcement.
"The far greater role will be played by individuals pursuing claims on their own with their own legal counsel, directly in court," said Pedersen.
The penalty for the first record keeping or notice violation is $250, plus $1,000 or more for each subsequent violation. Employers found to have not provided sick time must pay it plus damages equal to twice the earned sick time owed, along with attorney fees.
Paid sick leave is separate from vacation time. Companies and non-profits don't need to provide paid vacation time under the law. Even though the trend lately has been for employers to lump paid time off for a number of purposes — sick leave, vacation days and holidays — Johnsen recommends having a separate written policy covering paid sick time only.
Companies operating primarily outside Arizona also are subject to the law.
A business or non-profit with 200 California workers and just one in Arizona would still need to offer paid sick time to that one person here, said Bohr.
Provided By: AZCentral.com