Many Georgia workers on sick leave from their employers will soon be entitled to use that vacation to care for family members, thanks to a new law that went into effect last week by Governor Nathan Deal. The new law does not require employers in Georgia to take sick leave, but allows employees to use sick leave already earned to care for immediate family members. Accordingly, it is unlikely that employers in the state will be significantly burdened.

The basics

The new law, which is due to come into force on July 1, 2017, provides that employees can use up to five days of their sick leave per year to look after “immediate family members” such as children, spouses, grandchildren, grandparents, parents or relatives listed in the employee’s last tax return. The term “employee” refers to people who work at least 30 hours a week.

The law expressly stipulates that employees may not be put on sick leave more than they have already earned. In other words, if they have not accumulated and earned enough vacation time, they cannot rely on this new law to justify an additional vacation ban. In addition, employees must continue to comply with company sick leave provisions, which means that they must continue to comply with all applicable labor regulations regarding procedures for requesting time off and similar obligations. In essence, the new law simply means that an employer should not have a policy stating that “sick leave can only be used for the worker’s own illness and not for caring for others”.

The law does not apply to all branches in Georgia. All companies with fewer than 25 employees or all companies that offer an employee participation program are excluded from the new law.

More symbolically than in terms of content

Since SB 201 does not force employers to offer sick leave if they are not already doing so, the law will not have much of an impact on state employers. It seems that employers can choose to amend their sick leave rules to cut or remove benefit without consequences if they believe this new law would place undue burdens on them. In fact, the law says it cannot be construed as creating a new cause of action against employers, making it difficult to imagine how “violations” would even be enforced.

The law is expected to expire after three years (on July 1, 2020), unless the legislature decides to extend it.