On September 28, the Governor of Rhode Island signed into law the “Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act,” ushering in paid sick and safe leave for the smallest state in our nation. The law (“RI Sick and Safe Leave law”), effective July 1, 2018, requires employers with 18 or more employees to provide three paid sick days in 2018, four paid sick days in 2019 and five paid sick days thereafter. The time can be used for the medical needs of employees or their family members, certain absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and absences related to a public health emergency. The law includes the following provisions:

Employee Eligibility:  All employees are eligible for the RI Sick and Safe Leave law, with few exceptions. An employer can require a waiting period for newly hired employees of up to ninety (90) days. During the waiting period, an employee will accrue sick time, but cannot use the earned sick time until after the waiting period.

Covered Employers: Private employers employing 18 or more employees are covered by the RI Sick and Safe Leave Law. Employers that employ less than 18 employees are exempt from the accrual requirements of the law, except that those employers cannot take an adverse action against an employee solely based upon the employee’s use of the hours specified for the reasons set forth in the law.

Leave Reasons: An eligible employee can use accrued sick and safe time for the following reasons:

    • Medical Needs: An employee’s or family member’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, or need for preventive medical care
    • Public Health Emergency:
      • Closure of the employee’s place of business by order of a public official due to a public health emergency
      • An employee’s need to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed by order of a public official due to a public health emergency
      • Care for oneself or family member when a health authority determines that the employee’s or family member’s presence in the community could jeopardize the health of others because of their exposure to a communicable disease
    • Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking: Time off when the employee or a member of the employee’s family is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking

Sick Time Accrual: An employee will accrue 1 hour of sick time for every 35 hours worked. Employees accrue and can use up to a maximum of:

    • 24 hours during 2018;
    • 32 hours during 2019; and
    • 40 hours during 2020 and thereafter.

Employers can choose to front-load the maximum number of hours that an employee is expected to accrue in a year at the beginning of the year, instead of using the accrual method. The law also provides assistance for determining an employee’s accrual schedule. 

Coordination with the FMLA and other state laws:  The new law doesn’t specify whether it runs concurrently with the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave, Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Leave (Paid Family Leave), Rhode Island Crime Victim Leave, or the federal FMLA. If the employee is eligible for and the leave reason also qualifies under the state law and/or FMLA, the absence should be tracked and assessed concurrently.

Employers with PTO and Vacation Policies: The law contains several exceptions and provisions for employers who maintain a paid time off policy or paid sick and safe leave policy that can be used for the reasons set forth in the law.

What Employers Must Do Now

Rhode Island employers are responsible for compliance with this law as of July 1, 2018. Employers should:

  • Update paid leave policies to ensure that it offers paid sick and safe leave in accordance with this law’s requirements; and
  • Train appropriate personnel (Human Resources, Benefits, supervisors, managers etc.) on the law’s requirements and employee’s rights to use paid sick and safe leave.
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