On September 19, 2017, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved a bill that would require, with limited exception, all Rhode Island employers with 18 or more employees to provide their employees with paid sick time. The bill is in response to Governor Gina Raimondo’s call during her State of the State address in January for such legislation, and she has indicated she intends to sign the bill into law. 

Employees may use the leave to care for themselves or a qualifying member of their families or households due to illness or to address or recover from the effects of domestic or sexual violence or stalking. Employers may require third-party certification that an employee’s need for leave falls within the purposes of the bill, but only after the employee has been out of work for three consecutive days, or if the employee has established a pattern of using leave immediately before or prior to a weekend, holiday, or within two weeks of an employee’s scheduled last day of work.

Once signed, the statute would require employers with 18 or more employees to provide employees with paid leave as follows:

  • up to 24 hours of paid, protected leave in 2018;
  • 32 hours of paid, protected leave in 2019, and
  • 40 hours of paid, protected leave every year thereafter.

Employers with fewer than 18 employees would not be required to provide paid leave to employees but would be required to provide employees with protected leave in the same amounts.

Though unused, accrued leave carries over from year to year, an employer is only required to allow an employee to use up to 24 hours of leave in 2018, 32 hours in 2019, and 40 hours thereafter in a given year. In addition, unused, accrued leave is not payable as wages at termination like unused, accrued vacation is for employees with at least one year of employment in Rhode Island.

Under the law, employees would accrue one hour of leave for every 35 hours worked. New employees would begin accruing leave on the date they begin employment, but employers would be able to prohibit them from using leave until after their first 90 days of employment. Similarly, temporary employees would start accruing leave at the start of their employment, but employers would be able to prevent them from using it until after 180 days of employment. The law expressly excludes independent contractors, subcontractors, interns, state government employees, and health care employees working on a per diem basis. 

The law also provides that employers that do not wish to track employees’ accrual of leave may, instead, issue employees their full allotment of leave at the start of each year. Lastly, the bill also states that employers are not required to change their existing policies that afford leave in amounts equal to or in excess of that required by the bill and for the same purposes as the bill.

If signed, the law would become effective on July 1, 2018. While the bill has yet to be signed into law, the governor’s comments that she supports it should put Rhode Island employers on notice that they will need to incorporate the bill’s requirements into their wage and hour policies and budgets starting July 2018.

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Leaves of Absence/Reasonable Accommodation

Managing leaves and reasonably accommodating employees can be complex, frustrating, and expose employers to legal peril. Employers must navigate a bewildering array of state and federal statutes, with seemingly contradictory mandates.

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