This month the City of Austin passed the State’s first municipal paid sick leave ordinance requiring private employers to provide earned sick time to employees. Beginning on October 1, 2018 (and October 1, 2020 for employers with five or fewer employees), employers with employees working in the City of Austin must provide employees with earned sick time.

The new law will eventually apply to employers of all sizes who pay an employee to perform work and exercise control over the employee’s wages, hours and working conditions. This includes non-profit organizations and temporary or employment agencies.  The law does not apply to unpaid interns or independent contractors and governmental entities.

The ordinance requires covered employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked for the employer in the City of Austin. The accruals begin upon the later of the commencement of employment or the effective date of the ordinance.

Employee are permitted to take earned sick leave for the employee’s:

  • own physical or mental illness or injury, preventative medical or health care, or health condition;
  • need to care for a family member with a similar need for leave that the eligible employee could take; or
  • need to seek medical attention, relocation, or to obtain services from a victim services organization (or participate in legal proceedings or court ordered action related to an incident of victimization from domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking involving the employee or employee’s family member.

Generally, an employee must make a timely request to use earned sick time before his or her scheduled work time. However, an employer may not prevent an employee from using earned sick time for an unforseen covered absence.  Additionally, employers may adopt reasonable verification procedures to establish that the employee’s request of earned sick leave is for a covered reason if the request is for more than three consecutive working days.

The annual cap on accrued paid sick leave is 64 hours for employers with more than 15 employees and 48 hours for employer with 15 or fewer employees. Employers are not required to provide more earned sick leave in a calendar year than the applicable annual cap and are not required to allow an employee to use earned sick time on more than eight days in a calendar year.  All accrued by unused paid leave is carried over from year to year except for employers than make the annual cap available to the employee at the beginning of each year need not carry over earned sick time to the following year.  Accrued but unused earned sick leave is not expressly required to be paid out on termination of employment.

Employers must provide monthly statements to employees (electronically or in writing) showing the amount of an employee’s available earned sick leave and must make and maintain records of the amount of earned sick time earned and used by employees. Employers with employee handbooks must include a notice of employee rights and remedies under the ordinance in the handbook and must also display signage in conspicuous places where employee notices are customarily posted describing the requirements of the ordinance.  These postings must be in languages appropriate for the employer’s workforce.

The law also prohibits retaliation against employee who request or use earned sick time or who participate in complaints made to the Austin agency that enforce the ordinance.

Enforcement of the new law is done through the City of Austin Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office. The Office has the authority to investigate complaints, subpoena documents and assess civil penalties up to $500 for each violation.  Complaints must be filed within two years from the date of the violation.  No private right of action is created by the ordinance and it contains no criminal penalties for violation of its substantive provision although it is a Class C misdemeanor to refuse to comply with a valid subpoena.

A full copy of the ordinance can be accessed here.