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Large CT Employers Must Remember the Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law

By: Rebecca Goldberg

With all the changes to the paid leave landscape surrounding the availability of paid family and medical leave in the private sector, many Connecticut employers have questions about or have overlooked their obligations under the Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law (CPSLL).  The CPSLL went into effect in 2012, yet many employers are not clear on their obligations.

Under the CPSLL, Connecticut employers with 50 or more employees, with the exception of manufacturers and certain non-profit organizations, are required to provide paid sick leave to their covered service workers.  This obligation extends to municipalities and boards of education.  As a reminder, municipalities and boards of education are not covered under the Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave program unless they opt in for some or all of their workforce.  However, the CPSLL is a different obligation that applies to public-sector employers as well as those in the private sector.

Covered employers are obligated to provide paid sick leave to “service workers” under CPSLL.  Service workers are defined with reference to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupational Classification system.  The long list of classifications includes clerical workers, janitors, social workers, nurses, and many other groups.  Day workers, temporary workers, and employees who are exempt from minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act are excluded from the definition of service workers and do not need to be offered paid sick leave. 

 For employees who are entitled to paid sick leave, the following rules apply:

  • Accrual occurs at a rate of one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours of sick time per year.  Employers can designate a “year” to be a calendar year or other period (e.g. a fiscal year).  The same applies to “quarters.” 
  • An employee can use sick time after they have worked 680 hours for the employer since January 1, 2012.  This is a one-time requirement (unlike federal FMLA where the employee must work 1,250 hours in the preceding year).  However, an employee is not entitled to use accrued paid sick leave if they did not work for the employer an average of 10 or more hours per week in the last complete quarter. 
  • The employee can use paid sick leave for the following reasons:
    • For (A) a service worker’s illness, injury or health condition, (B) the medical diagnosis, care or treatment of a service worker’s mental illness or physical illness, injury or health condition, or (C) preventative medical care for a service worker;
    • For (A) a service worker’s child’s or spouse’s illness, injury or health condition, (B) the medical diagnosis, care or treatment of a service worker’s child’s or spouse’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, or (C) preventative medical care for a child or spouse of a service worker; and
    • Where a service worker is a victim of family violence or sexual assault (A) for medical care or psychological or other counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability, (B) to obtain services from a victim services organization, (C) to relocate due to such family violence or sexual assault, or (D) to participate in any civil or criminal proceedings related to or resulting from such family violence or sexual assault. 
  • An employer can require up to seven days’ advance notice, but only where the need to use leave is foreseeable.  If it is not foreseeable, the employer may require notice as soon as practicable.  The employer may not request documentation (such as a doctor’s note) unless the leave is used on three or more consecutive days.  This provision effectively requires the employer to assume the employee is being truthful, but nothing prohibits the employer from disciplining or firing an employee for lying about the use of sick leave.  However, since the law prohibits retaliation against employees for using sick leave, there is some risk in such situations of being accused of retaliation if the employer cannot prove that the employee was lying.
  • Employees are allowed to carry over up to 40 hours of unused accrued sick time until the
    following year, but the employee is not entitled to use more than 40 hours of sick time in a year.  There is no requirement to pay out unused hours upon termination unless a separate policy (or collective bargaining agreement) requires it.
  • An employee with a break in service does not need to meet the 680-hour requirement again (and if the employee was partway to the 680 hours, picks up where they left off).  However, the employee does not get to keep accrued time from before the break in service.
  • Employers must notify their service workers of certain rights contained in the Paid Sick Leave Law at the time of hiring.  The most practical notification method is to place the Connecticut Department of Labor’s poster in a conspicuous place accessible to service workers.  If the employer chooses this method, it must post both English and Spanish versions of the poster. 

Employers who provide paid leave that is at least as generous and may be used for the purposes specified in the law are deemed to be in compliance.  Many employers offer generous leave banks, but do not ensure that their leave programs are otherwise compliant with the law.  Here are some common ways employers may be out of compliance:

  • An employer may offer 15 days of paid sick leave (more generous than the law requires), but only for the employee’s own illness or with limitations that allow the use of only 2-3 days for family illness.
  • Paid time off (PTO) policies, which allow for the use of leave without regard to the reason, may still be inadequate because they may require an employee to complete a minimum period of employment prior to utilizing the time, so that the employee may have worked 680 hours and be eligible to use time in accordance with the law while the employer’s policy does not yet allow for paid time off.
  • Employer policies often apply only to full-time employees or part-time employees defined as those working at least 20 hours per week.  However, employees who work fewer hours must still be allowed to accrue time off under the law.
  • Existing collective bargaining agreements were grandfathered in to the law in 2012.  However, many agreements were never updated to comport with these legal requirements.

Employers should determine whether they are required to comply with the Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law and review policies and collective bargaining agreements to determine whether there are areas that do not comply with the law.  Employers are encouraged to work with counsel to create updated policies and determine how to address situations where the collective bargaining agreement sets out a program that does not meet the requirements of this law.