Remote Employment 101: Navigating Leave Laws
Employees often need to take time off from work for a variety of reasons. Not many laws at the federal level provide employees with protected time away from work, however there are a number of states and localities with laws in place that provide employees with protected leave rights. Leave entitlements vary depending on factors such as the number of employees, the length of time needed, and qualifying reasons for the leave, however all of them provide some level of protection for employees. As a result, it is critical that employers are aware of the different requirements in the jurisdictions where they have employees.
While vacation time is generally not required by private employers, a vast majority have company policies that provide paid vacation to employees. One important provision of any vacation policy is how companies treat unused balances upon separation of employment. There are rules in place in many states that address this situation. In California, for example, accrued vacation is treated as wages and must be paid upon separation of employment.
Sick leave laws have been passed throughout the country, providing protected leave for workers, and each law varies in terms of eligibility and usage. While most sick leave laws allow employees to take time off for their own or a family member’s health condition, many jurisdictions also permit employees to use this time for reasons due to domestic violence or sexual assault, or in relation to the closure of a child’s school or daycare resulting from a public health emergency. Some states include additional qualifying reasons, many of which have been expanded as a result of the pandemic.
Family and Medical Leave
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers private sector employers with 50 or more employees; however some state laws apply to smaller employers. For example, in New Jersey, employers with 30 or more workers are covered under the New Jersey Family Leave Act while Connecticut’s law applies to all employers. In addition to states providing leave protections, many also provide partial wage replacement through paid family leave benefits to employees.
Certain states, such as California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island require employers to provide temporary short-term disability insurance to workers. If a company’s headquarters is in a state without this requirement, it should not be assumed the same applies for every state where there are remote workers.
Over the past two years, many states have enacted special leave laws related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes time off for illness as well as the need to quarantine and for vaccine-related reasons. Many of these laws have since expired, although there are still some states that have extended these requirements.
While the above focuses on some of the more familiar types of leaves, it is important to note that many states and localities have protected leave laws for other reasons such as bereavement, blood/bone marrow & organ donation, jury duty or court attendance, crime victim status, voting, and other qualifying needs. It can get very specific to each jurisdiction, so the most important takeaway is that it is extremely important that employers know the requirements of the location where their employees are working, so they can remain compliant while providing employees with the right protections.
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