Much has been made of a bill (Senate Bill 217) in the Connecticut General Assembly that would create a paid sick leave provision for employees. Lost in the debate is the fact that Connecticut already has a paid sick leave provision that works in tandem with the Connecticut Family & Medical Leave Act, as I reported in January. Before the General Assembly debates the bill, they would be wise to review this provision and see how it has been working, rather than creating a whole new system from scratch.
We’ve had an illness in the family recently and it reminded me of a topic that most employers (and I would dare say attorneys) are probably unfamiliar with in Connecticut. Specifically, Connecticut’s FMLA laws allow an employee to use sick days not simply for themselves, but to care for a family member in certain circumstances. The law also allows for the use of sick days for the birth or adoption of a child.
This is unique to Connecticut — no comparable federal law exists — but this law is so underpublicized or misunderstood that I would guess that many employers simply don’t follow it. After all, sick days are normally viewed as days to take when the employee is sick, not for someone else. This provision is also fairly recent (having passed just a few years ago) so that may add to the misunderstanding.
So where is this provision found (or buried, depending on your perspective)? Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-51pp(c)(1). That section reads as follows:
(c) (1) It shall be a violation of sections 31-51kk to 31-51qq, inclusive, for any employer to deny an employee the right to use up to two weeks of accumulated sick leave … to attend to a serious health condition of a son or daughter, spouse or parent of the employee, or for the birth or adoption of a son or daughter of the employee. For purposes of this subsection, "sick leave" means an absence from work for which compensation is provided through an employer’s bona fide written policy providing compensation for loss of wages occasioned by illness, but does not include absences from work for which compensation is provided through an employer’s plan, including, but not limited to, a short or long-term disability plan, whether or not such plan is self-insured.
So, a few key points arise from this section:
- The employee may take up to two weeks paid sick leave — if they have accumulated it. If the employees don’t have the time to begin with, the employer is under no obligation to give the paid sick leave.
- The sick leave is not applicable to take care of family members with ordinary illnesses such as colds, etc. Rather, it is only for a "serious health condition" as defined by the FMLA.
- The employees still need to abide by the other requirements of FMLA for such leave, including providing documentation that the family member does indeed have a serious health condition.
- If the employer does not have a written policy of sick days but only, for example, gives employees vacation days, then this provision would appear not to apply. However, if the policy states that vacation days can be used for an employee’s illness, then the employer is open to an argument that this provision may apply.
- The sick leave can also be taken for the birth or adoption of a child.
- Although Sec. 31-51pp(c)(2) doesn’t implicitly state this, this provision is related to the Connecticut FMLA. Thus, if the employee does not qualify for FMLA in the first place, this provision would not appear to apply.
As employers review their policies and procedures, this is one area that can be added to the checklist. A thorough review of your entire FMLA policy will ensure compliance in this tricky area of the law.