Questions and Solutions: Georgia’s New Paid Sick Go away Act

On May 8, 2017, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the Family Care Act, a new law requiring certain employers to allow their employees to use up to five days of their available paid sick leave to care for immediate family members. This new law comes into force on July 1, 2017. Here are some key questions and answers about the requirements of the Family Care Act, as well as some key takeaways for employers.

Q: When does the law come into force?

A: This new law comes into force on July 1, 2017.

Q: Which employers are insured?

A: The new law applies to employers with 25 or more employees and to employees of the state government. It is important that the law only applies to employers who, in addition to short-term or long-term disability plans, grant paid sick leave.

Q: Which employees are insured?

A: Employees who work at least 30 hours a week for salaries, wages or other allowances are entitled to sick leave to care for a close family member.

Q: Are employers required to pay sick pay?

A: No. Unlike other states with paid sick leave laws, Georgia law does not require employers to provide sick leave. The law only stipulates that if an employer grants employees already paid sick leave, that employer is also required to allow employees to use a certain amount of their vacation pay to care for immediate family members.

Q: How much paid time is required?

A: Insured employers must allow eligible employees to use up to five days of paid sick leave to care for an immediate family member. Again, this only applies if the employer already has paid sickness insurance. The law also expressly provides that an employer must not allow an employee to use more than five days of earned sick leave per calendar year to care for a close relative.

Q: When can an employee use vacation?

A: The law does not allow an employee to take sick leave until that leave is earned, and an employee who wishes to take such sick leave must comply with the terms of the employer’s sick leave scheme.

Q: Who is an “immediate family member”?

A: The law defines “immediate family member” as “the child, spouse, grandchild, grandparents or parents or their dependents as stated in the employee’s last tax return”.

Q: How does this affect an employer’s obligations under the Federal Family and Sick Leave Act (FMLA)?

A: Georgia employers also covered by the FMLA must continue to grant eligible employees unpaid federal FMLA vacations. How this new law and the FMLA will work together remains to be seen, but employers should remain aware of the possible interaction between these two laws and keep abreast of any advances involved.

Q: What are the enforcement provisions of the law?

A: The new law does not contain any enforcement or criminal provisions. The law therefore is to bark rather than bite. In fact, the law expressly states that it cannot be construed as creating a new cause of action against an employer.

However, this does not mean that employers can ignore the Family Care Act. Employers should consider taking positive steps to ensure that any paid sick leave plan complies with this law and ensure that all HR staff and managers understand the implications.

Q: Are there any special rules for employers who offer employee stock ownership programs?

A: Georgia’s law contains a unique and somewhat puzzling exception. Any employer who offers employees an employee participation plan is exempt from the law. Although many states have laws allowing this type of sick leave, it appears to be the only exception to this type of leave.

The central theses

  • If an employer does not provide paid sick leave, no action is required.

  • If an employer has a sick leave scheme “for whatever reason”, it already complies with the new law.

  • Insured employers with policies that provide paid time off for health reasons (other than short-term and long-term disability policies) should review these policies and consider revising them to accommodate the new Georgia -Act to ensure.

  • Insured employees with policies that allow employees to use paid sick leave only for their own illness or injury must be prepared to revise their policies to comply with the new laws.

At the end of the day, Georgia’s Family Care Act is part of a nationwide trend to encourage employers to allow workers to use their sick leave to care for their immediate family members. Employers should carefully review their paid time off policies for compliance, train executives on the new requirements, and determine how the new law may raise issues related to the FMLA.

© 2021, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC, all rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 179