In September of last year, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed into law the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act (HSFWA), which will require covered Rhode Island employers to provide paid sick and safe leave to eligible employees (including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees) starting on July 1, 2018. In the law's first year, employers with 18 or more employees must allow eligible employee to accrue one hour of paid sick and safe leave (PSSL) for every 35 hours worked or paid (including paid time off) up to a maximum of 24 hours in 2018, a maximum of 32 hours in 2019, and a maximum of 40 hours per year thereafter. Under the legislation and final regulations issued in May, covered employers with fewer than 18 employees will be required to protect unpaid time off used by eligible employees for covered reasons under the HSFWA in the same amounts.
The legislation explicitly states that no municipality shall establish, mandate, or otherwise require an employer to provide paid sick leave benefits in excess of those required under the HSFWA. Also, employers are not prohibited from offering a paid sick and safe leave time policy that provides greater rights or benefits than those provided for in the HSFWA.
Employees are protected from adverse action including retaliation for exercising their rights under the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplace Act.
Accruing time for paid sick leave
Covered Rhode Island employers must allow eligible employees to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked, up to 24 hours in 2018. Employees who are exempt from overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act are presumed to work 40 hours per week, unless their employer dictates a shorter normal work week.
Employees must be permitted to carry over accrued but unused sick and safe leave from one year to the next year. However, employers may choose to cap the use of sick and safe leave at 24 hours per year in 2018, at 35 hours per year in 2019, and at 40 hours per year thereafter. Alternatively, employers may choose to provide the maximum amount of sick and safe leave to eligible employees at the start of each year (frontloading) and avoid accrual and carry over requirements.
When can employees in Rhode Island use paid sick leave?
Employees in Rhode Island may use this sick and safe leave under a variety of circumstances. These include:
- The worker's physical or mental health needs, need for diagnosis (preventive) care or treatment;
- A family member's mental or physical illness, or care for a family member who needs diagnosis (preventive) care or treatment;
- The closure of the employee's place of business or her/his child's school due to a public health emergency; or
- Time off when the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Waiting period for new hires
Under the HSFWA, employers may mandate a 90-day waiting period for newly hired workers, during which they may not use accrued sick and safe leave. Businesses can extend this waiting period to 150 days for seasonal employees and 180 days for temporary employees. The waiting period must be communicated to new hires in writing.
The final regulations cite different notice and documentation requirements related to the use of sick leave for “food employees” as defined under the Rhode Island Food Code.
As effective date draws near, some questions remain
On May 11, 2018, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training finalized HSFWA regulations and clarified some issues, including how to determine business size and how to calculate pay as well as identify provisions which must be documented in employer policies. However, the regulations fail to provide sufficient explanation in other areas. Additional guidance is expected in the form of FAQs.
As July 1 approaches, Rhode Island employers should be prepared to comply with the new law and final regulations, as well as monitor for additional resources from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.