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Healthy Families Act Could Have Unhealthy Effect on Ohio Business

Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A.

Ohio voters will likely have an opportunity to vote on the “Healthy Families Act” in November 2008.  Supporters of this Act are gaining momentum and it will most likely be on the ballot in the November 2008 election.

If this Act passes, all Ohio employers with 25 or more employees must provide employees a minimum of seven (7) paid sick days per year for their own illnesses or medical appointments or the illnesses or medical appointments of family members. 

Current polls show 70% of voters favor the Act’s passage.

If it passes, what will the Act require?

EMPLOYERS AFFECTED
The Act applies to all Ohio employers who employ 25 or more employees.  The Family Medical Leave Act applies only to employers with 50 or more employees. 

EMPLOYEES AFFECTED
All employees who work 30 hours or more per week will receive seven (7) paid sick days per year.  Employees who work 30 hours or less per week would receive a prorated amount of sick leave.  Sick leave must begin to accumulate immediately upon hiring.

Employees can carry over unused sick leave into the following year.

Since the statute states that employees get seven (7) days, it is unclear how this will apply to employers who have employees on 10 and 12-hour days.

HOW DO THE EMPLOYEES ASK FOR THE LEAVE?
Employees may give either verbal or written notice to the employer of their need for leave.  Employers must allow employees to take sick leave in increments as small as one (1) hour at a time.  Employers can only ask for medical certification if the employee is off for more than three (3) days.  The employee has thirty (30) days to provide the certification.

HOW CAN IT BE USED?
Sick leave can be used not only for employee’s own illness or medical appointments but for illness or appointments of their children, parents, parents-in-law, and spouse.  Unlike Family Medical Leave, the illness does not need to be a “serious illness.”

Employers are not required to pay out unused sick leave at the termination of employment.

CAN EMPLOYERS CHANGE THEIR POLICIES?
The statute specifically provides that after enactment of the new law, employers may not reduce existing vacation or paid time off plans in order to comply with the law and to provide seven (7) sick days. 

WHAT CAN AN EMPLOYER DO?
If an employer does not currently provide paid sick days and does not wish to add the cost of seven (7) paid days off for every employee, an employer must act prior to the November election to change its policy. 

It is unclear at this time whether paid time off policies (PTO) which combine vacation, sick leave and personal leave into one “bank” of leave will comply with the Act.  There is a possibility that such PTO policies will not comply and that only a separate sick leave allowance will comply with the Act.  The language in the Act is also unclear regarding how much time must be allowed to be carried over. 

If an employer does not currently provide seven (7) paid sick days and does not wish to increase their leave policies by seven (7) paid sick days, it is imperative that you review your leave policies and make any changes necessary prior to November 2008.

If you would like to discuss whether your current policies comply with the Act or changing your policies, please call Attorney Karen Soehnlen McQueen at 330-497-0700.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.

 
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