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Most Large CT Employers Must Give Mental Health Days

By: Rebecca Goldberg

Under the Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law, public and private Connecticut employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide paid sick leave to certain employees referred to as “service workers.”  The law applies to private businesses, boards of education, municipalities, non-profits, and other employers, excluding manufacturers and a narrow group of non-profits.  Most covered employers employ at least one person in a “service worker” function, as the term is defined through a very expansive list of job titles from secretaries to food preparation workers to janitors.

The Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law specifies certain reasons for which a service worker can take paid sick leave, such as the service worker’s illness; illness of the service worker’s spouse or child; preventative care; and certain reasons connected to family violence or sexual assault.  The law requires that employers provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year and allow carryover of up to 40 hours as well.  Employers are prohibited from retaliating against service workers for their use of this leave.

Due to recent legislation, beginning October 1, 2023, the list of reasons for which a service worker can take leave is expanded to include taking a “mental health wellness day.”  The term is defined as “a day during which a service worker attends to such service worker’s emotional and psychological well-being in lieu of attending a regularly scheduled shift.”  (One other addition, which is not the focus of this article, is to allow the use of sick leave for parents to take time related to family violence or sexual assault for which the child is the victim, provided the service worker is not the perpetrator.)

Notably, the legislation does not increase the total bank of time available, so a service worker who uses a mental health wellness day has less time available for other reasons covered by the law.  Employers that provide paid leave that is at least as generous in terms of accrual and reasons for use are deemed to be in compliance with the law.  For example, an employer that provides a 10-day paid time off (PTO) bank to be used for any reason is in compliance.

There does not appear to be any meaningful limitation on the service worker’s use of a mental health wellness day inasmuch as it does not limit the use of sick leave to seek mental health care (e.g., a therapy appointment) or require that the service worker have a mental health condition of any kind.  In the past, a Facebook post showing the service worker relaxing at the beach on a sick day might have raised suspicions of fraud.  Now, as long as the service worker did not misrepresent the reason for leave, this could be a legitimate use of a mental health wellness day as the service worker would arguably be attending to their emotional and psychological well-being by enjoying the beach.

Employers must be prepared for the practical implications of this change.

  • Employers will need to update handbooks, contracts, and collective bargaining agreements that limit the use of sick leave to specific reasons to ensure that all covered reasons, including mental health wellness days, are included.
  • It is likely that the CT Department of Labor will provide an updated labor law posting.  Make sure to post the updated notice when it is available.
  • Employers must consider the possibility that service workers may call out on days that are particularly stressful at work (e.g., the day of a major deadline or event) with the employer having little to no recourse.
  • Employers must be prepared for mental health wellness days to be taken on short notice.  The law provides that an employer may require advance notice, not to exceed seven days of the intention to use paid sick leave, but only if the leave is foreseeable.  Otherwise, the service worker must give notice “as soon as practicable.”
  • Employers must remember that other laws may apply to employee mental health issues, such as the state and federal Family and Medical Leave Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.  These laws apply when dealing with a mental health condition rather than for generic emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Our team of labor and employment attorneys can assist employers in complying with the complicated landscape of employee leave laws.  Additionally, we offer a training program for supervisors and Human Resources professionals specific to handling employee mental health issues.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us.