Rhode Island has joined the plethora of states that have passed paid sick and safe leave legislation for the state’s workers. The Rhode Island “Healthy and Safe Families Workplace Act” (H5413/S290) was signed into law by the Governor on September 28, 2017.
The basics. Effective July 1, 2018, Rhode Island employees of an employer with 18 or more employees in Rhode Island will earn one hour of paid leave time for every 35 hours worked, up to a maximum of 24 hours of accrued paid sick and safe leave in 2018, 32 hours in 2019, and 40 hours in 2020 and thereafter. Employees can carry over any unused, accrued paid time; however, the use of such time is still subject to the maximums (i.e. 24 hours in 2018, etc.). Accrued but unused sick and safe time is not payable to the employee upon termination.
Employees begin to accrue leave as of July 1, 2018, or their date of hire, whichever is later. While employees can begin to earn and accrue leave, employers can impose a waiting period of up to 90 days for new hires before they can take any accrued time. Temporary employees must wait up to 180 days to use any accrued leave (unless the employer agrees otherwise).
Leave reasons. Employees may use sick and safe leave for any of the following reasons:
- The employee’s own mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition; need for preventive care, diagnosis,
or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.
- Care of a family member for the same reasons as the employee’s own needs.
- When an employer’s business or the employee’s child’s childcare facility or school is closed
due to a public health emergency.
- When the employee or his or her family is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Covered relationships. “Family member” is broadly defined under the Act to include: child (biological, adopted, or foster son or daughter, a stepson or stepdaughter, a legal ward, a son or daughter of a domestic partner, or a son or daughter of an employee who stands in loco parentis to that child), parent, spouse or domestic partner, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, care recipient, or member of the employee’s household. A “care recipient” is a person for whom the employee is responsible for providing or arranging health or safety related care.
Employee notice and documentation. Employees are required to provide notice (in the means designated by the employer in its policy) where the need for leave is foreseeable. Employer may also require documentation (again, as long as the employer has a policy that says so) for leaves of 3 or more consecutive work days. The documentation requirement is quite limited and only allows for documentation that the leave is for a permissible purpose. The employer may not require documentation regarding the nature of the illness or details of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Permitted employee discipline. This Act also incorporates a few safeguards for employers:
- An employer may discipline, up to and including termination of employment, an employee who is committing
fraud or abuse by engaging in an activity that is not consistent with an allowable purpose for paid sick and
- An employer may also discipline an employee (again up to termination) who exhibits a clear pattern of taking
leave just before or after a weekend, vacation, or holiday if the employee is unable to provide reasonable
documentation that the leave has been taken for a permissible purpose.
Ensure that your pay practices are in order and ready to provide for the necessary accruals and usage accounting starting July 1, 2018
Draft a clear policy governing Rhode Island paid sick and safe leave. At a minimum, be sure to specify the means by which employees must give notice of the need for Rhode Island paid sick and safe leave (e.g., by email, other written request, verbal to supervisor, a call-in line, etc.) and your documentation requirements within the parameters of the law. Be sure your employees know about these policies by special notice, new hire notice, including in your employee handbook, and/or posting in areas in which workers congregate like lunch or break rooms.