By Jason Allen
Those who spent some time with us last week already know that Bay Area voters took to the polls with an eye toward employees this year. But it wasn’t just with regard to pay. They also ventured into the oh-so-complicated world of sick leave and flexible schedules.
As we have discussed before, California’s statewide Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 takes effect on January 1, 2015, and will require employers to provide paid sick leave after July 1, 2015 to most employees. The statewide Act may have engendered apoplectic responses in certain circles, but employers in San Francisco and Oakland likely review its mandates with yawns and shrugs to go with their soy lattes. San Francisco had already addressed this subject in 2007, and Oakland intends to impose requirements similar to San Francisco’s when Measure FF takes effect next year.
Under San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, employees who regularly work at least eight hours per week in San Francisco accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked in the City, just as they do under the state law. The accrued time carries over year to year, with some limitations: for employees of businesses with fewer than 10 employees, the accrued paid sick leave is capped at 40 hours (lower than the state’s cap); for businesses with 10 or more employees, the cap is 72 hours, which is higher than the state’s cap. As with the state law, San Francisco’s ordinance does not require employers to pay employees for any unused accrued sick leave upon separation; employers are not “prevent[ed] from adopting or retaining leave policies that are more generous”; and employees may use sick leave for themselves or to help a family member. Note also that San Francisco employees can designate individuals other than a spouse, domestic partner, or other family member for whom the employee may use paid sick leave to provide assistance or care. The bottom line is that because there are areas where the San Francisco law is less or more generous than the state’s, employers must craft policies for their San Francisco employees that consider the more onerous parts of both the state and local requirements.
Oakland’s Measure FF, which we discussed last week in the context of wage increases, also imposes sick leave requirements similar to San Francisco’s: Employees will accrue one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at 40 hours for businesses with fewer than 10 regular employees and 72 hours for businesses with at least 10 regular employees. As under San Francisco’s ordinance, employees with no spouse or domestic partner may designate one person other than a family member for whose care or assistance they can use paid sick leave. And Oakland’s ordinance will not require any payout for unused accrued leave upon separation. But Oakland’s new ordinance may cause some consternation for employers who already offer PTO policies that meet or exceed Measure FF’s minimum sick leave requirements.
The issue with Oakland’s new ordinance on this front may stem from its combining minimum wage and sick leave requirements in one ordinance—something that no other Bay Area city has yet done. On one hand, Measure FF includes a provision similar to those in the statewide and San Francisco mandates: employers with existing PTO policies that meet or exceed Measure FF’s sick leave requirements need not provide any additional sick leave. (See Measure FF Section 5.92.030(A)(4).) On the other hand, the ordinance expressly precludes an employer from funding the required increases in compensation by reducing “vacation, or other non-wage benefits.” (See Section 5.92.050(A)(2).) While that provision was likely intended to prevent employers from robbing Peter to pay Paul—to essentially pay for the costs associated with the increased minimum wage by reducing other benefits provided to employees—it looks to have additional consequences for employers in Oakland. An employer seeking to modify its existing leave policies to comply with the new ordinance by reducing existing vacation or PTO benefits to establish a distinct sick leave benefit—an adjustment that appears permissible under both state law and San Francisco’s ordinance—may run afoul of Oakland’s ordinance.
Flexible Work Schedules
The next potential trend in local ordinances or state laws regarding employee benefits may require greater flexibility in determining or modifying employee work schedules. San Francisco stepped onto this previously untrodden ground in 2013, and, on November 4, 2014, Berkeley voters suggested that their City Council follow.
As detailed here, here, and here, San Francisco’s Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, effective January 1, 2014, requires employers with 20 or more employees to allow employees who regularly work eight hours per week in San Francisco to request flexible work arrangements so they can assist with caregiving responsibilities for children, parents age 65 or older, or other family members.
By approving The Berkeley Flexible Work Time Initiative of 2014, Berkeley’s voters didn’t quite force their city’s hand, but they certainly gave it an urgent nudge. The initiative “advis[es] the city of Berkeley to pass a right-to-request law that applies to employees in Berkeley.” The provisions for such an ordinance “should be based on the provisions of the Working Families Flexibility Act, first introduced [but not enacted] in Congress in 2007 as Senate Bill S. 2419, and on the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, passed by San Francisco in 2013.” We predict that the City will not ignore this hint, and that provisions of the sort advised will find their way into an ordinance within the next year.
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The law in these areas, much like the ground underlying the Bay Area, is always moving and shaking. Stay tuned. We will provide updates regarding statewide and local requirements on minimum wage, sick leave, and flexible work time as they develop. And, as always, if you have any questions, please reach out to your friendly neighborhood member of Seyfarth’s California Workplace Solutions Team to help you navigate the choppy waters of the Bay.