state leave laws
Employee Benefits

A Puzzling Look at Leave Laws

Travis Dent
Travis Dent
Sr. Vice President, Employee Benefits

I’ve been to 46 states. Yep, 46. Seems like a lot, right?! It feels like a lot, especially when I look at the map I’ve got hanging in my home office with the magnets marking each of those quirky shapes of geography I’ve visited. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge (insert masochism). So, this summer, I (along with my wife) will drive our one and three-year-old daughters 16 hours to the beach for our first family vacation in Florida. Residing in Texas, this trek will allow me to mark one more off my shrinking list and include the great state of Alabama in my cadre of places ventured.

As I understand it, upon arriving in Alabama, I must walk into a convenience store, pay for the gas I’ve just pumped into the family Jeep, and have my only verbal interaction with the clerk be the simple phrase “Roll Tide!” Not being from the area and knowing very little about this state, I’ve been told this figure of speech is basically a verb and can be used in place of “How’s the weather?”, “My name is Travis.”, “Where is your bathroom?”, etc. So, I move closer to rounding out the 50 and will do so in true Southern fashion…Roll Tide.

For those of you still reading (thanks Mom), I have an answer to the only logical question from that long-winded treatise above…Hawaii, Idaho, and Wyoming. Those three are the only states standing between me and some sort of extra serving of mashed potatoes at my Dad’s next Rotary meeting for being, shall we say, well-traveled.

In all my travels, do you know one place I’ve not been? Duluth, Minnesota. Well, lots of places really, but Duluth is on that list. The reason I bring up Duluth in my wandering and seemingly self-aggrandizing list of travels is the recent ordinance enacted by their city council requiring employers with five or more employees (residing inside or out of Duluth) to offer 40 hours of covered sick and safe leave per year. Add this to the nine states with pregnancy disability laws, 11 with paid sick leave laws, 17 with family and medical leave, and five with paid family leave and your head begins to swim. Oh, did I mention these were state and local leave laws, separate from the federal FMLA? Couple this with a 2018 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey that showed 72 percent of organizations would be increasing their leave of absence benefits to attract and retain employees, and you’ve got a game of Jenga on your hands.

Some employers have gone down the path of leaves not being considered a benefit and, therefore, not under their purview. The argument being, can you go on leave if you don’t have or did not enroll in benefits? Yes, being the answer — making them not a benefit.

Not willing to commit in a blog to my opinion on that particular subject, I will say this: like 1095 reporting, I’m afraid the puzzle of state and local leave laws are here to stay. Further, I would say popular opinion within most organizations places them firmly in the box of, yep, you guessed it, benefits. Will your enrollment and eligibility company help you track and administer? Maybe. Is there a Life and Disability carrier building a model to help manage them much like they did with the New York paid disability law? Most definitely.

All of that to say, this is something employers will need to stay in front of from both a compliance and talent retention perspective.

In the near-term, working closely with your Holmes Murphy team and our compliance experts is an important step to wrap your arms around what is out there, what is changing, and what is required. In the long-term, building a strategy on how you’ll manage this complexity and whether or not it’s internally built or sourced to a trusted third-party will be critical. Either way, just be mindful of your own map as it is rapidly changing.

With that bit of direction, I’m going to wrap up this post with something that seems only fitting after our time together…Roll Tide…Roll Tide.

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