Under the newest of a succession of Executive Orders, workers employed by federal contractors will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
As with many state and municipal sick leave laws, the Executive Order permits workers to use paid sick leave to care for themselves, a family member, such as a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner, or another loved one, as well as for absences resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The new requirements will become effective in 2017.
New requirements favored by the White House
In support of the policy change, the White House noted that an estimated 44 million private sector workers – about 40 percent of the total private-sector workforce – do not have access to paid sick leave. As a result, the Administration argues that many workers must choose between caring for themselves or an ill family member and earning a paycheck.
The White House did not attempt to tally the anticipated cost impact of the new sick leave requirements. However, it did claim that providing paid sick leave has been shown to improve the health and performance of employees. This is a typical argument previously made by other government entities to justify the imposition of such requirements without any attempt at demonstrating the basis of such assertion.
President Obama has used his Executive authority to justify the unilateral imposition of employment policies upon federal contractors at times when he lacks political support to enact legislation on a more broad basis. As previously discussed on this blog, the President has used Executives Orders to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, raise the minimum wage, and increase the number of workers eligible for overtime. It has been argued that this backdoor circumvention of the Constitution is unlawful. Indeed, when George W. Bush was in office, the then-Senator Obama criticized that President’s use of Executive Orders, saying, “There is no shortcut to politics, and there’s no shortcut to democracy.”
Healthy Families Act
In his Labor Day speech announcing the Executive Order, President Obama also called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would require all employers with 15 or more employees to offer up to 7 paid sick days each year. The President also voiced his support for states and cities that have enacted their own paid sick leave laws.
In New Jersey, lawmakers have currently tabled statewide sick leave legislation as they recognize that they cannot currently override Governor Christie’s anticipated veto. In the meantime, more than a dozen municipalities, including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Trenton and East Orange, have enacted their own paid sick leave ordinances which have created a hodgepodge of inconsistent compliance requirements for New Jersey employers.