Federal Contractors: Paid Sick Leave Is Now A Reality

Contributed by Heather Bailey, October 21, 2016

On September 7, 2015, President Obama signed Executive Order 13706 requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick leave to their employees – up to 7 days annually. The leave is related to an employee’s own illness or injury, including, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking absences, and for family care for same. The Department of Labor published its Final Rule just over a year later on September 30, 2016.

pay-overtimeHere are the key components:

  • The Final Rule applies to any new federal contracts solicited on or after January 1, 2017, replacement contracts (for those that are expiring) that are solicited on or after January 1, 2017, and contracts awarded outside of any solicitations on or after January 1, 2017.
  • The Final Rule covers procurement contracts for construction under the Davis-Bacon Act (contracts subject only to DB Related Acts — for example where a federal agency provides financial assistance or insurance but does not directly procure construction services — are excluded); service contracts covered by McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act; concessions contracts; and federal property or lands contracts, including contracts related to offering services to federal employees or the general public.
  • Good news for banks and financial institutions: unless you are otherwise covered by the above contracts, this Final Rule does not apply to you since “money” alone is not considered federal property.
  • Accrual = 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours the employee works on or related to a covered contract up to a maximum of 56 hours each year.
  • Employers who do not want to track accrual hours may give employees a bank of at least 56 hours of sick leave to use throughout the accrual year.
  • Employees must be notified in writing at the end of each pay period or month (whichever is shorter) of the amount of paid sick leave available to them.
  • Any accrued but unused leave must carry over year to year, but the Final Rule imposes no obligation to pay out the sick leave bank upon termination of employment (although state law may, so be sure to check state laws on this topic of payout of earned vacation, sick, PTO, etc. to ensure compliance).
  • Employees can take the leave in increments as low as 1 hour.
  • All rejections of sick leave requests must be in writing and state the reason for the denial. That reason cannot be no replacement worker was found or the operational needs of the company.
  • Certification can only be required for absences of 3 or more days and with prior notice if the employee needs to certify his/her return to work.
  • Here is your new poster.

The good news is the Family Medical Leave Act leave runs concurrently with this new paid sick leave and you can use your existing paid time off policies so long as the rights and benefits meet or exceed the requirements of the Final Rule.

The DOL’s Final Rule can be found here and Fact Sheet, here.

With the new and ever changing paid sick leave laws in various states, cities and locales, it is a good idea to reconcile them all (including CBAs) with these new requirements to ensure compliance so you don’t get hit with a penalty to pay damages or worse, debarment.


Contributed by Jonathan Hoag, October 18, 2016

As we previously reported, OSHA postponed enforcement of its controversial post-accident drug testing rule from August 10, 2016 to November 1, 2016.  Now, with the November 1, 2016 deadline approaching, OSHA has extended its stay on enforcing the post-drug testing rule until December 1, 2016.

OSHA initially delayed enforcement of the rule until November 1, 2016 because a lawsuit was filed in July 2016 by numerous parties seeking injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of the rule. OSHA agreed to postpone enforcement of the rule to allow the parties to brief the legal issues presented in the lawsuit. The legal briefing was completed in September 2016.  While the Judge was reviewing the case to determine if OSHA should be enjoined from enforcing its rule, OSHA claimed that the plaintiffs were only seeking injunctive relief on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit and not on a national basis.

On October 14, 2016, the Judge determined that the parties should further brief the issue as to whether the injunction sought was only on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit or if it would apply nationwide. The Judge requested that OSHA delay enforcement of the rule until December 1, 2016 to allow time for a decision on the pending lawsuit. Today, OSHA informed the court that it has agreed to a further delay and it has advised all regions of the decision to delay enforcement until December 1, 2016. The court intends to make a determination on the request for an injunction prior to the December 1, 2016 deadline. If an injunction is entered, the court will also decide if it prohibits enforcement nationwide or only with respect to the parties.

Employers should continue with preparations to comply with OSHA’s new rule. For more in depth coverage, join us for a webinar on this topic on October 19, 2016 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. or for an in-person seminar in Effingham, Illinois on October 20, 2016.


Website Accessibility Lawsuits Under Title III of the ADA – Are you Exposed?

Contributed by Michael Wong, October 18, 2016

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) not only provides employment protections and accommodation rights to qualified individuals with disabilities in the workplace, it also requires reasonable accommodations in “places of public accommodation.” Places of public accommodation include businesses that are open to the public and fall within one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices. The ADA’s mandate extends to newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation including privately owned, nonresidential commercial facilities such as factories, warehouses, and office buildings.

17103126_sTraditionally, Title III has meant that businesses with brick and mortar locations had to remove physical barriers to provide equal access and opportunities to individuals with disabilities (i.e. installing wheelchair ramps or elevators, accessible restrooms, and handicap parking spaces). However, courts and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over the past few years have interpreted Title III to also require accessible public websites.

Even though the DOJ has not issued guidelines or standards for web accessibility for private businesses, it has been seeking to enforce Title III against private businesses. Moreover, over the past few years, more and more private litigants have been sending demand letters and filing lawsuits against businesses. Indeed, several have become “professional litigants” in this area, much like we have seen with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The number of cases filed alleging violations of Title III has more than doubled over the past few years.

While relief under Title III of the ADA is limited to injunctive relief (i.e. business is ordered to shut down website or make it accessible), successful litigants can recover their attorneys’ fees and costs. Additionally, some state laws provide for additional monetary damages. For example, in California the damages are up to three times the amount of actual damages, but not less than $4,000, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. It is noteworthy that California has taken some steps to address “high-frequency litigants” and exempted certain businesses from the full minimum $4,000 statutory damages. However, the potential exposure and liability for a Title III website accessibility claim is real.

What do businesses need to know and do?

First and foremost, check whether your websites are accessible. Though the DOJ has not issued formal regulations, it has recognized Version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as an appropriate standard. Next, promptly remediate any deficiencies identified in your websites. Note that sometimes it is more cost effective to create a new website than to make an old website accessible. Third, be on the lookout for further guidance. The DOJ has indicated its intent to issue a proposed rule regarding website accommodation. Finally, consult with qualified counsel on ways to limit exposure to potential accessibility lawsuits and how to respond to a demand letter or lawsuit alleging a violation of Title III.


Contributed by Jonathan Hoag, October 17, 2016

As we previously reported, OSHA postponed enforcement of its controversial post-accident drug testing rule from August 10, 2016 to November 1, 2016.  Now, with the November 1, 2016 deadline approaching, OSHA may extend its stay on enforcing the post-drug testing rule until December 1, 2016.

47506356 - alarm clock - deadlineOSHA initially delayed enforcement of the rule until November 1, 2016 because a lawsuit was filed in July 2016 by numerous parties seeking injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of the rule. OSHA agreed to postpone enforcement of the rule to allow the parties to brief the legal issues presented in the lawsuit. The legal briefing was completed in September 2016.  While the Judge was reviewing the case to determine if OSHA should be enjoined from enforcing its rule, OSHA claimed that the plaintiffs were only seeking injunctive relief on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit and not on a national basis.

On October 14, 2016, the Judge determined that the parties should further brief the issue as to whether the injunction sought was only on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit or if it would apply nationwide. The Judge will only agree to review the issue further if OSHA will agree to postpone enforcement until December 1, 2016. OSHA must decide by October 18, 2016 if it will agree to delay enforcement. It is likely OSHA will agree to delay enforcement. However, it is unclear whether the court will enter an injunction to prevent enforcement of the rule, and if an injunction is entered whether it will apply nationwide or only to the parties that filed the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful employers will receive clarity on this issue until close to the deadline when enforcement is to begin – no matter if that deadline is November 1, 2016 or December 1, 2016. As such, employers should continue with preparations to comply with OSHA’s new rule. For more in depth coverage, join us for a webinar on this topic on October 19, 2016 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Or click here to register for an in-person seminar in Effingham, Illinois on October 20, 2016.

Are you ready for December 1st? The FLSA Salary Changes Are Almost Here

Contributed by Sara Zorich, October 13, 2016

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) implementation of its Final Overtime Rule and an increase for salaried exempt employees to $913/week is set to go into effect on December 1st. We want to debunk the myths of what could and could not derail the implementation:

  1. 63527433 - december 1. calendar on white background. 3d illustration.New Litigation – On September 20, 2016, two lawsuits were filed to enjoin the new regulation from taking effect: States of Nevada et. al v. U.S. Department of Labor et. al., Case 4:16-cv-00731, Eastern Dist. TX and Plano Chamber of Commerce et. al v. Thomas Perez et. al., Case 4:16-cv-00732, Eastern Dist. TX. Both lawsuits are seeking to enjoin the DOL from implementing the salary increase on the basis that the promulgation of the rule was done in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the DOL has exceeded its authority. As of today’s date, there has been no date for a hearing on the request for injunctive relief. While we anticipate that a hearing may be held on the request for a stay of the salary increase before the December 1, 2016, no date is currently set. The court could enjoin the DOL from implementing the new rule but there is no certainty that such will occur.
  1. Presidential Race – While Presidential candidate Donald Trump has expressed opposition to the DOL’s salary increase, his potential election to President of the United States will likely have little impact on the implementation of the new salary increase. If he is elected, his inauguration will not occur until after the new rule goes into effect, thus making it highly unlikely that any reversal of the regulation would take effect until 2017.
  1. New Bills –In March 2016, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773) to nullify the DOL proposed rule was introduced. These bills have not been sent for vote by either the House or Senate. On September 21, 2016, the Regulatory Relief for Small Businesses, Schools, and Nonprofits Act (H.R. 6094) was introduced which requests postponement of the the DOL’s new overtime regulation from December 1, 2016 to June 1, 2017 for small businesses, schools and nonprofits. The House passed H.R. 6094 on September 28th and it was sent to the Senate on September 29th. To date, the Senate has not voted on the bill.

The bottom line is that there is great uncertainty if the DOL’s Final Overtime Rule can or will be derailed prior to December 1st. Thus, employers must continue to push forward with analyzing their exempt positions and making determinations as to whether each position meets both the salary basis and duties tests for exemption from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While you do not need to implement any salary increases until December 1, 2016, companies should be ready to make changes on or before that day and should not rely on the “hope” that the DOL’s implementation will be delayed.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements Expand to Cook County Suburbs

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, October 11, 2016

Last week, the Cook County Board passed a paid sick leave ordinance that requires most employers in Cook County to provide paid sick leave for their employees. It will take effect on July 1, 2017 and basically mirrors the requirements of a City of Chicago paid sick leave ordinance that passed earlier this year.

The county ordinance requires a covered employer to provide to eligible employees up to 40 hours (5 work days) of paid sick leave in a 12-month period. The 12-month period begins as soon as the covered employee begins employment or July 1, 2017, whichever is later. 

sick-leaveCoverage.  A covered employer is any individual, group of persons or entity that employs at least one “covered employee” and has its principal place of business within Cook County.  A covered employee is any individual who performs at least 2 hours of work for your company within Cook County, during any two-week period, including time that you pay the employee while s/he is traveling within Cook County for business purposes (e.g., deliveries, sales calls, service calls, etc.).

Eligibility. The employee must work at least 80 hours for your company within any 120-day period.

Accrual. Accrual of paid sick leave for an eligible employee is capped at 40 hours of paid sick leave in each 12-month period, which is calculated from the beginning of either the 1st calendar day after the start of the employee’s employment or July 1, 2017, whichever is later. Employees will accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. For employees who are exempt from overtime requirements, the ordinance assumes a 40-hour work week; however, if the exempt employee works less, the accrual will be based on the employee’s normal week.

Usage.  The earned sick leave time may be used for recovering from illness or injury, medical treatment, diagnosis or preventative care for the employee or the employee’s child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, including step and foster relationships, and “anyone whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” It may also be used for matters related to domestic violence or sexual assault; and, when an employee must care for a child due to a public health emergency closure related to the child’s school or care facility.

An employee must be able to start using earned sick leave by at least the 180th day following his/her first day of employment. Usage of earned sick leave is also generally capped at 40 hours for each 12-month period of employment (calculated from the date the employee began to accrue the sick leave), unless an employer sets a higher limit.  All eligible employees can carry over up to 20 hours of their unused paid sick leave to the next 12-month period. If an employee is also eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the employee can carry over the standard 20 hours, plus up to 40 hours of his/her unused sick leave to use exclusively for FMLA purposes. This means that an employer has a potential burden of providing 60 paid sick leave hours in a 12-month period!

A minimum increment requirement can be set by the employer, but it cannot exceed 4 hours per day. If an employee’s sick leave absence is 3 or more consecutive work days, an employer may also require employees to provide certification or documentation to support the reason for the leave.

Unlike earned vacation, there is no payout requirement for earned but unused paid sick leave time upon separation from employment.

Posting and Notice Requirements.  Employers will be required to issue written notice to new employees and display a poster notifying employees of their rights under the ordinance. The notice and poster will be created and made available by the Cook County Commission on Human Rights.

Employee Recourse.  The ordinance contains non-retaliation/non-discrimination language with respect to any employee’s good faith exercise of rights under the ordinance. It also prohibits an employer from using an attendance policy to discipline, discharge, or take any other adverse action against an employee for any bona fide use of the paid sick leave time. For any alleged violations of the ordinance, employees may pursue civil court actions against employers to recover the value of up to three times the amount of unpaid sick time denied or lost, plus interest and attorneys’ fees and costsClaims are subject to a 3-year statute of limitations.

Exceptions.  The ordinance does not affect existing collective bargaining agreements.  Once the collective bargaining agreements expire, however, the ordinance will apply to a covered employer unless the union and employer clearly and explicitly waive the ordinance requirements. With or without a waiver, however, the ordinance will not apply to any employee who works in the construction industry and is covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Existing Paid Time Off (PTO) Policy. The ordinance provides that an employer has an existing PTO policy that grants covered employees paid leave “in an amount and manner” that meets the ordinance’s requirements, the employer does not need to provide additional paid leave. However, a broad reading of this language suggests that even if you have a PTO policy that provides for at least 5 days’ leave, you must ensure that how the leave can be used and carry over minimum requirements are up to par.

If an employer’s PTO policy provides a full bank of 40 hours immediately upon eligibility (versus an accrual system), then the employer must provide each covered employee at least 40 hours of PTO within one calendar year of his/her date of eligibility.  In other words, regardless of the accrual rules, the covered employee must get to use at least 40 hours of paid sick leave within each 12-month period.

Next steps:  Determine if you are a “covered employer” and which of your employees are covered under this ordinance. If you are a covered employer, then:

  • Review your PTO, sick leave and attendance policies for compliance and need for modification.
  • Train your human resources personnel and supervisors regarding the requirements and prohibitions under the ordinance, especially if they are involved in monitoring attendance and issuing related discipline.

For those employers who are NOT covered by the Chicago or Cook County ordinances, be mindful of the Illinois Sick Leave Act, effective January 1, 2017, which requires certain flexibility with respect to employee use of sick time.

Politics & Election Law in the Workplace: “Are you seriously voting for that candidate?!”

Contributed by Noah A. Frank and Allison Sues, October 7, 2016

With the 2016 general election heating up, discussions about politics and candidates will inevitably enter the workplace. Employers should be aware of several critical legal issues when responding or reacting to politics in the workplace, as well as understanding workers’ rights to engage in the political process.

40593358 - voter registration application for presidential election 2016Imposing a blanket ban on political discussions may run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRA, which applies to private unionized and non-unionized workplaces, protects non-supervisory employees’ discussions about terms and conditions of employment. As such, employers may not prohibit all political discussion in the workplace because some political speech could intersect with work-related matters (e.g., immigration reform, equal pay, or the minimum wage) and therefore may be protected. The same is true for an employer’s ban of political insignia in the workplace. While an employer can prohibit buttons, signs, or clothing bearing pure political speech in the workplace (e.g., “Vote for Candidate X!”), a ban on similar insignia sufficiently connected to employment issues (e.g., “Vote for Candidate X to raise the minimum wage!”) may violate the NLRA.

Political speech in the workplace may also implicate anti-discrimination and harassment protections.

As seen in the most recent election cycle, hot political issues may overlap with an employee’s protected status. For example, impassioned conversations about political platforms related to immigration and terrorism may be deemed discriminatory or harassing to an individual based on race, religion, national origin, or ancestry. Views on abortion could be deemed harassing or discriminatory to employees based on gender or religion.

Employers must be careful that political discourse in the workplace does not create a hostile or discriminatory work environment for other employees or otherwise implicate various equal employment opportunity and civil rights laws.

For public employers, First Amendment protections may be implicated.

The First Amendment prohibits the government’s restriction of free speech. As such, public employers may not terminate or otherwise discipline employees because of their political views or activities.  Many local ordinances similarly protect county, municipal, and other public agency employees’ political speech. That said, it is prohibited for public employees to perform campaign activities on taxpayer time or by using public resources.

On the other hand, private employers are not limited by the First Amendment from banning political discussion in the workplace (subject to the above). But proceed with caution! Some states and local laws (such as D.C., California, and New York) prohibit discrimination based on political affiliation and political activity outside of the workplace. Additionally, some states (like Illinois) prohibit employers from gathering or keeping record of employees’ associations, political activities, publications, communications, or non-employment activities. Similarly, many states (like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri) protect an employee’s privacy surrounding their off-duty political speech on the internet, including speech on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Of course, both private and public employers have a legitimate and lawful interest in ensuring that employees are productive and that political discussions or activities do not impede the normal operation of an employer’s business. Policies and rules implemented to address this lawful interest should be neutral without favoring a certain political view.

Private employers may persuade only a “restricted class” of individuals to vote for or against a political candidate.

Federal election laws define this restricted class as “executive or administrative personnel” who receive a salary and have policymaking, managerial, professional, or supervisory responsibilities. However, a corporation may not advocate for a particular candidate or political party in its communications to employees outside of the restricted class, including hourly employees.

In many states, employees have the right to voter leave.

For example, Illinois employees are entitled to two hours of leave when the polls are open to vote. The employee must request the leave at least the day before the election (note: requests made on election day can be denied). The employer may dictate the hours of leave. However, employers must permit a two hour absence during one’s actual work day where an employee’s working hours begin less than two hours after polls open and end less than two hours before the polls close. For example, if the polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., then:

  • An employee working a 16-hour “double” shift from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. would be given two hours of paid leave to vote, at a time chosen by the employer.
  • An employee scheduled to work a 12-hour shift from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. either would need to be (a) released from work by 5:00 p.m. (and paid for the one hour of missed work from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) to have a two-hour period to vote, or (b) allowed any other two-hour period off work while the polls are open, with pay, to vote.
  • An employee working from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. may be directed to vote after work, and no time after 3:00 p.m. needs to be compensated.

In Missouri employees may take up to three hours of paid leave to vote – but only if the employee actually votes. Wisconsin permits up to three hours of unpaid leave. Like Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin employees must provide notice before Election Day, and the Employer may dictate the time of leave. Unlike its Midwest sisters, Indiana has no specific employment voting leave rights.

It should not surprise readers that California has its own unique provisions. Employees must be granted “enough” leave so that they will actually be able to vote. Fortunately, only two hours of working time taken off needs to be paid. Employees must give at least two working days’ notice. Also, California employers must post a “Time Off to Vote” Notice at least ten days before any state-wide election (failure to post would likely excuse employees from providing the requisite notice of their need for voting leave).

The Bottom Line:

Election law is state (and sometimes county and city) specific.  If the election cycle is creating any sort of workplace tension, employers should revisit conduct standards, anti-harassment / bullying policies, and reporting procedures. Experienced employment counsel may assist with implementing sound policies and practices to help manage workplace issues that may arise during election season.