Speaking at a Labor Day event in Boston, President Obama announced a new executive order that will provide up to seven days of paid sick time to employees of federal contractors.  The measure, which does not go into effect until 2017, is the latest in a string of executive orders affecting working conditions for people employed under federal contracts.

Under the executive order, employees working under qualifying federal contracts will be entitled to earn up to seven days of paid time off to deal with health and domestic violence issues affecting themselves or their family members.

Many of the details of how the earned sick time will actually be administered and tracked have been left to regulations to be drafted by the Secretary of Labor over the next year.  However, the main provisions of the executive order are as follows:

  • Employees will earn one hour of paid sick time for every thirty hours worked.
  • Employers cannot cap accrual of earned sick time until an employee amasses fifty-six hours of earned sick time—the equivalent of seven eight-hour days.
  • Earned sick time can be used for absences resulting from:
    • physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition;
    • obtaining diagnosis, care, or preventive care from a health care provider;
    • caring for a child, a parent, a spouse, a domestic partner, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship who has any of the conditions or needs for diagnosis, care or preventive care described above, or is otherwise in need of care;
    • domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, including absences resulting from the need for medical care related to domestic violence, or resulting from seeking counseling, participating in legal proceedings or other related absences.
  • In the case of foreseeable absences, employees must request paid time off, orally or in writing, seven days in advance. In the case of unforeseeable absences, employees must request time off as soon as is practicable.
  • Employees cannot be forced to find a replacement worker as a condition of using paid sick time.
  • Employers may not request certification (i.e., a “doctor’s note”) until an employee has had absences of three consecutive workdays.
  • Employees may carry over earned sick time from year to year.
  • Employees will not be entitled to payment for unused earned sick time upon termination, but workers re-employed within twelve months of termination will have their unused earned sick time reinstated.
  • Employers’ pre-existing paid time off policies can satisfy the provisions of the executive order if such policies provide at least the same amount of paid time off, and if that time off can be used for the same purposes provided for in the executive order.
  • The Executive Order includes anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination provisions.

In many respects, the provisions of the executive order resemble the recently-enacted Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, which President Obama praised during his Labor Day speech.  The Obama administration estimates that the executive order will provide paid time off to about 300,000 workers, but it is no secret that the President wants paid sick time to be expanded to all U.S. workers.  In his 2015 State of the Union address, the President asked Congress to “[s]end me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.”  It’s unclear whether Congress will give the President the legislation that he is looking for, but in the meantime, federal contractors will anxiously await the Secretary of Labor’s proposed regulations for implementing the executive order, which are due by September 2016, in advance of the executive order’s January 1, 2017 effective date.