What Employers Need to Know About Connecticut’s New Sick Leave Law

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently signed Public Act 11-52, An Act Mandating Employers Provide Sick Leave to Employees. This makes Connecticut the first state in the country to require employers to provide paid sick leave benefits to employees. Effective January 1, 2012, the new law will require that certain employers provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each year to "service workers." In addition, the law contains strict anti-retaliation provisions that extend beyond covered "service workers," and imposes new notice requirements on all employers. Although the new law will be interpreted and clarified by regulations from the Department of Labor, the purpose of this article is to address some of the most frequently asked questions about the law.

Which employers are covered by the new law?

The law defines "employer" as any person, firm, business, educational institution, nonprofit agency, corporation, limited liability company or other entity that employed 50 or more individuals in the state in any one quarter during the previous calendar year. This determination must be made on January 1 of each year.

The law excludes from the definition of "employer" most manufacturers and certain nationally chartered non-profit organizations that provide recreation, child care and education, such as the YMCA.

Who are covered "service workers"?

The law broadly defines "service workers" as hourly, nonexempt employees who are engaged in one of nearly 70 occupation classifications listed in the statute. The classification codes are from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupational Classification System and cover a wide range of diverse occupations, including health care workers, foodservice workers, office workers, security guards and others. However, "day or temporary workers," including per diem employees, are specifically excluded from the definition of "service worker."

Employers should carefully review the list of classification codes and work with counsel to determine whether any of their employees are covered. The text of the new law, including the list of covered classification codes, can be found here.

How is sick leave accrued?

The law requires covered employers to provide eligible service workers with one hour of paid sick leave for each 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours of paid sick leave. Service workers are eligible to begin using accrued sick leave after the completion of 680 hours of employment and the individual worked an average of 10 or more hours per week in the most recently completed calendar quarter.

For what can accrued sick leave be used?

Eligible service workers may use accrued sick leave for their own or their spouse’s or child’s (a) illness, injury or health condition, (b) medical diagnosis or treatment of mental or physical illness, injury or health condition or (c) preventive medical care. In addition, covered service workers may use sick leave for certain purposes if they are victims of family violence or sexual assault.

At what rate must sick leave be paid?

Sick leave must be paid at the higher of the minimum wage or the worker’s regular hourly wage. For employees whose hourly wage varies, the rate must be the higher of the minimum wage or the worker’s average hourly wage in the pay period preceding the pay period in which the worker took the leave.

Can unused sick leave be carried over from year to year?

Although the law permits covered service workers to carry over up to 40 hours of accrued sick leave from year to year, the law does not require that such service workers be entitled to use any more than 40 accrued sick hours per year.

What if an employer already provides paid time off?

An employer will be deemed to be in compliance with the new law and is not required to provide additional paid time off if the employer provides any other paid leave, whether it be paid vacation, personal days or other paid time off, if such other leave (or combination of such leaves): (a) may be used for the same purposes as sick leave under the new law and (b) is accrued at the same or greater rate as sick leave under the new law.

Must unused sick leave be paid upon termination?

No, the law does not require that employers pay service workers for unused sick leave when the worker is terminated, unless the employer has a policy, agreement or collective bargaining agreement requiring it to do so. Any termination of employment is considered a break in service. In the case of workers who are rehired after a termination, the law does not require employers to recognize sick leave accrued prior to the break in service unless the employer has specifically agreed to do so.

What are the anti-retaliation provisions under the new law and do they only apply to covered service workers?

The anti-retaliation provisions under the new law are broad. Not only does the law prohibit retaliatory personnel action or discrimination against covered service workers who use or request to use sick leave under the law, it also prohibits retaliation and discrimination against any employee who uses or requests to use paid sick leave either under the law or under the employer’s paid sick leave policy. In addition, retaliation is prohibited against any employee who brings a complaint to the Labor Commissioner alleging a violation of the new law.

What are the notice requirements for employers?

Covered employers are required to provide notice to each service worker when they are hired about the entitlement to sick leave, that the employee has the right to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner if the employer violates the law and that the employer will not retaliate against employees who request sick leave. Employers may satisfy this requirement by displaying a notice in a conspicuous area accessible to service workers that contains the information described above. The poster must be in English and Spanish.

Do employees have any notice requirements?

The new law permits covered employers to require that service workers provide up to seven days of advanced notice from the day leave is to begin if the need for leave is foreseeable. If the required leave is unforeseeable, employers are permitted to require notice as soon as is practicable.

Employers may require reasonable documentation from health care providers for paid sick leave of three or more consecutive days.

What are the penalties for violations?

If an employee brings a complaint to the Labor Commissioner under this law, the Commissioner may hold a hearing. If the employer is found to have violated the anti-retaliation provisions, the employer may be liable for a civil penalty up to $500 for each violation. If the employer is found to have violated other sections of the law, the employer may be liable for a civil penalty up to $100 for each violation. In addition, the Labor Commissioner is empowered to order payment for used sick leave, payment of back pay, reestablishment of the affected employee’s benefits and rehiring or reinstatement.

What should employers do now?

Employers who have 50 or more employees should immediately determine whether or not they are covered under the new law or any of their employees are "service workers." If so, employers should review their current policies and determine if revisions will be necessary to satisfy the requirements of the law. Even if covered employers do not employ any service workers, they should be mindful of the law’s anti-retaliation requirements for their employees covered by any other sick leave policy.