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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

New Jersey to adopt paid sick leave - is Ohio next?

While the Ohio Healthy Families Act stalls in the legislature, and Sick Days Ohio, the group lobbying for this bill, gathers signatures to place in on November's ballot, New Jersey will join California and Washington to become the 3rd state (plus the District of Columbia and San Francisco) to require paid sick leave for employees. The New Jersey plan, however, differs from Ohio's Healthy Families Act in three key regards:

  1. New Jersey's employees will partially fund their own paid leave through a payroll deduction. According to today's Philadelphia Inquirer, each worker will pay about $33 per year, while each is entitled to collect up to two-thirds of their salary, capped at $524 per week.
  2. Employers will be able to require their employees to use accrued vacation days and other paid time off before using their allotment of statutory paid sick leave.
  3. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would not be required to keep jobs open to workers who take the leave.

These differences are a step in the right direction of protecting the interests of small business owners. A payroll deduction and benefit cap will alleviate some of the concerns over cost, although I doubt that $33 per year per employee will be enough to fully cover all employees. Requiring employees to use other paid leave before the statutory leave will prevent potential abuses by employees. Finally, not guaranteeing continued employment for employees of small businesses will allow those businesses to meet their staffing needs without fear of a retaliation lawsuit.

The OHFA has other deficiencies that still need to be addressed, particularly its anti-retaliation provision: "No employer shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee for opposing any practice made unlawful by this Act, including ... using paid sick leave taken pursuant to this Act as a negative factor in an employment action, such as hiring, promotion, or a disciplinary action." "Negative factor" is much too forgiving of a standard, and likely will hamstring employers from taking action against any employee who is out for even a day with an illness.

The Ohio legislature should consider the OHFA, if only to keep it from appearing on the November ballot in its current form. Such debate should include consideration of these provisions from the New Jersey law, each of which addresses an important concern to Ohio's small business owners.