Ready or not, mandatory paid sick time is coming to Arizona

May 10, 2017 | Russ Wiles

Now that Arizona businesses have adjusted to Arizona’s higher minimum-wage law, the second shoe is about to drop — mandatory paid sick time for nearly all workers.

Both provisions were included in Proposition 206, which the state’s voters approved in November. But while the minimum-wage hike to $10 an hour from $8.05 garnered most of the headlines, paid sick time off could be more beneficial for some workers and potentially problematic, or at least confusing, for some employers.

“The majority of (businesses) that I’ve talked to already were paying $10 an hour or more,” said Ellen McKitterick, staff attorney for the Mountain States Employers Council in Scottsdale. “But many have never had to think about providing leave or paid leave for their employees. Some employers don’t know anything about it.”

What companies need to know

The new law takes effect July 1 and affects nearly everyone in the state’s workforce. Here’s what companies, non-profits and their staffs should know about it.

What’s the new law about? Virtually all employers, with few exceptions, will have to offer paid sick leave to their workers. “That includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers,” said McKitterick.

The only exceptions are state and federal employees, most of whom already receive paid time off, and sole proprietors. But for businesses with at least one other employee, the new law applies.

How much paid leave is required? That depends on how many employees a business or non-profit has. Those with 15 or more workers must provide at least 40 hours of paid time off annually. Those with fewer than 15 employees must provide a minimum of 24 hours per year.

The accrual rate is one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, until the minimums are reached, said McKitterick. “It starts to accrue on the day of hire, the very first day.”

Do employees need to prove they’re sick to take time off? No. The law provides paid leave for various reasons besides actual illness. According to McKitterick, it can be used for physical or mental illnesses or ongoing treatment such as preventive dental checkups and well-woman exams. A worker also may use earned sick leave for time spent on behalf of family members for any of these same purposes.

In addition, employees may take sick leave to deal with issues related to domestic violence, sexual abuse and stalking. This can include taking time off to meet with an attorney, arrange shelter services or secure safe housing.

“It’s much broader than an employee who calls in and says, ‘I’m sick today,’ ” said McKitterick. She added that businesses can’t ask for documentation or other proof from a worker until there have been three straight days of absence.

Are there other requirements for employers? Yes. For example, businesses and non-profits must keep records of accrued time off for each worker and post notices of the new law in a prominent place, such as in a breakroom. Businesses that fail to meet their requirements are subject to various penalties. The Industrial Commission of Arizona is tasked with enforcing the law and providing guidance.

There are some vague aspects to the law, said McKitterick. For example, it’s unclear how much unused paid sick leave can be carried over to subsequent years.

Is there a precedent for this law in other states or at the federal level? Yes. Federal law provides for unpaid sick leave at businesses with 50 or more employees, said McKitterick. Also, federal contractors are required to provide paid sick leave to their workers. Some states, including California, have their own rules allowing paid sick leave.

Will the law prove disruptive to certain businesses? Possibly. Non-profits, many of which are small and struggling, could find the requirement costly. So too for a lot of businesses with part-time and seasonal workers, from restaurants to retail stores to country clubs.

“It will affect many short-term employees who may never have had the opportunity to earn paid sick time before,” said McKitterick. “This is sweeping coverage, affecting nearly all employers and all employees.”

If I don’t like the law, can I complain to my state representative or senator? Yes, but it probably won’t do much good. Because this was a voter-approved measure, it would require another ballot initiative, not actions by the legislature, to overturn the law or make substantial changes, McKitterick said.

azcentral.com