Obama Issues Executive Order on Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors

President Obama on Labor Day signed an executive order which requires companies that contract with the federal government to provide their workers with paid sick leave. The order, titled “Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors,” seeks to ensure that employees of companies which contract with the federal government are eligible for paid sick leave, and will affect 300,000 American workers previously ineligible for this benefit.

Under the order, workers on federal contracts will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and a contractor may not limit an employee’s total accrued sick to less than seven days per year. This sick leave may be used by employees for absences resulting from:

  • Physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition;
  • Obtaining a diagnosis, care or preventative care from a health care provider;
  • Caring for a family member in need of medical treatment or preventative care; or
  • Domestic abuse, including seeking medical care, relocation, assistance from victim service organizations, to take any related legal action, or to assist a family member in any of the above.

The order forbids employers from discriminating in any way against an employee for taking or attempting to take his or her paid sick leave. It further forbids employers from making the use of sick leave contingent on finding someone to cover any work that would be missed during that time. President Obama has directed the Secretary of Labor to issue regulations to carry out his order. The rule change will affect government contracts beginning in 2017.

The issue of access to paid sick leave is an important one. Without it, Obama noted, a parent may be forced to choose between losing income or staying at home with a sick child. Though the President through executive order may only require federal employees and contractors to comply, as only Congress may issue a law that would require the private sector to do the same, he has urged Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act which would require private-sector employers of 15 or more employees to provide sick leave benefits. He also “strongly encouraged” independent agencies to comply with the order’s requirements.

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