What Employers Need to Know About the Austin, TX Paid Sick & Safe Leave Ordinance

In the early hours of February 16, 2018, Austin, Texas, became the first Southern city to pass a paid sick and safe leave law. The final version is slated to go into effect on October 1, 2018, for most employers, although employers with five or fewer employees have a reprieve with an October 1, 2020, effective date. Opponents are already discussing potential preemption legislation, and so it remains to be seen whether the ordinance will go into effect or for how long.

In the meantime, employers in Austin must prepare for compliance. Multistate employers will find most requirements to be standard fare; but, there are a few stand-outs. Although many sick leave laws allow employers to enforce a waiting period before employees can use earned sick leave, the Austin measure allows use immediately upon accrual. However, an employer may restrict the employee from using earned sick time for the first 60 days if the employer establishes that the employee’s term of employment is at least one year. Another provision caps maximum use at no more than eight calendar days in a given calendar year. This leaves open the question of whether the eight-day requirement means eight full days, or if an employee who uses one hour of sick leave over eight days may be blocked from further use in the same year.

Other highlights include:

  • Eligibility: Applies to employees who work at least 80 hours within the City of Austin during a calendar year, but not independent contractors or unpaid interns.
  • Accrual: Beginning at date of hire, employees accrue one hour for every 30 hours Employers must provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year. Employers with 15 or fewer employees must provide 48 hours of paid sick leave per year. Employees are entitled to carry over up to the annual accrual cap of earned sick time to the following year.
  • Purpose for Use: Sick time may be used for the employee’s own physical or mental illness or injury, preventive medical or health care, or health condition; employee’s need to care for a family member’s physical or mental illness, preventative medical or health care, injury, or health condition; or the employee’s need to seek medical attention, seek relocation, obtain services of a victim services organization, or to participate in legal or court-ordered action related to an incident of victimization of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking involving the employee or employee’s family member.
  • Transfer and Rehire: An employee who is transferred to a different location must retain the right to use earned sick time, and employers must restore an employee’s previous balance if the employee is rehired within six months.
  • Notice: Employers must provide a monthly statement to employees with accrued and used sick leave. An employer must post a sign provided by the City, and employers with a handbook must provide a notice of rights and remedies in the handbook.

The City of Austin Equal Employment & Fair Housing Office will enforce the Ordinance and may assess a civil penalty of up to $500 for each violation. Most violations, except for retaliation claims, will be subject to warnings during the first year.

To speak to Courtney Blanchard about paid sick and safe leave across the country, contact her at 612.305.7732 or cblanchard@nilanjohnson.com.