House Bill Proposes Minimal Paid Sick Leave for All Workers

Staff Writer

A measure by which all workers in Oklahoma would accrue up to at least one week of earned paid sick leave annually has been filed in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1310 by Rep. Collin Walke would enact the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act.”

It proposes that all employees, private- and public-sector alike, accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, but no more than 40 hours per year “unless the employer selects a higher limit.”

A requirement of this nature is needed because many Oklahomans, particularly in low-paying jobs, have no paid time-off for illness or emergencies, Walke said Wednesday.

Four in 10 private-sector workers are not accorded paid sick leave, and seven in 10 low-wage workers whose earnings are in the bottom 25% of earners lack access to paid sick time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Among those employed in the accommodation and food service industries, 75% must choose between losing pay or showing up to work sick and/or leaving a sick child at home alone, the DOL says.

“Studies show that individuals who are paid for time off to seek medical care, including preventive medical care, are more productive and actually save employers money,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City. Requiring an employee who’s sick from a cold or the flu, or some other contagious illness, to come to work jeopardizes the health of other employees and customers, which is counterproductive, the first-term legislator said.

HB 1310 specifies that an employee could use the paid leave for several health-related reasons, including treatment of a physical or mental illness, injury or health condition; a worker’s “need for preventive medical care”; taking care of a family member who’s ill or injured; or to attend a meeting at a location where a child is receiving care for a health condition, disability or some other critical matter.

Another justifiable reason would be absence “necessary due to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking,” to enable the employee or a family member to receive medical attention, aid from a victim services organization, psychological or other counseling, relocation or “taking steps to secure an existing home” or securing civil/criminal legal services due to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking.

Walke’s bill includes a proviso that if/when an employee needed three or more consecutive days off, the employer could require “reasonable documentation” that the paid sick leave was used for a legitimate reason.

Any employer that offers a paid leave policy and “makes available an amount of paid leave sufficient to meet” the requirements of HB 1310 would not be required to “provide additional paid sick time,” the bill stipulates.

Employees who are exempt from overtime requirements pursuant to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act “shall be assumed to work 40 hours in each work week” unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours, in which case earned paid sick leave would accrue according to their shorter schedule.

An employer’s “absence-control policy” would not be allowed to count used paid sick leave as an excuse to discipline, discharge, demote or suspend an employee nor take any other “adverse action” against the worker, HB 1310 decrees.

No employer would be required to provide financial compensation to any employee who is fired or resigns or retires and has any unused sick leave.

The proposal will be among 1,340 House bills that will be considered when the Legislature convenes in earnest Feb. 6 to start its four-month regular annual session.

There is no federal legal requirement for an employer to provide paid sick leave, the U.S. Department of Labor acknowledges. However, “Evidence is mounting that providing workers with time off when they or their family members are ill reaps enormous benefits,” the agency contends.

Employers that offer paid sick time know that this benefit “improve[s] worker morale and productivity, attract[s] talented employees, and reduce[s] costly turnover,” the DOL reports. In addition, paid sick-time policies “help prevent the spread of contagious illness to co-workers and customers, allow workers to get preventive care, and curb unnecessary and costly emergency-room visits” by allowing employees to seek medical attention during regular business hours.

Paid sick leave is “a basic building block of family economic security,” which benefits the entire economy, the DOL maintains.

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