Why You Should Care About Portland’s Mandatory Sick Leave Proposal

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Barran Liebman
Oregon Law Firm

On January 17, Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz released a proposal that, if passed, will require all Portland employers to provide sick leave to employees. Employers with six or more employees will have to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (one hour for every 30 hours worked). Employers with five or fewer employees will have to provide the same number of hours of unpaid sick leave. In either case, employees must work a minimum of 240 hours per calendar year within Portland to qualify for sick leave.

Employers who already provide employees with a minimum of 40 hours per calendar year of paid or unpaid time off through a Paid Time Off policy would not be required to provide additional sick leave, provided the employers’ policies allow leave to be taken for the same purposes as those provided for in the proposed ordinance. The proposal also prohibits retaliatory actions against employees who take sick leave.

This proposal, if passed in its present form, will affect many employers in the Portland city limits who do not already provide for paid sick leave, particularly the service industry where profit margins are already low in a sluggish economy. Additionally, there are a number of issues that may present complications for employers if the proposal is not amended or clarified before acceptance.

The new ordinance does not formally require additional recordkeeping (aside from documenting the number of hours that employees work and sick leave taken), but it could create a recordkeeping nightmare for employers’ whose employees perform work both inside and outside Portland. For example, employees who work in multiple locations of a business will be covered by the ordinance if they work 240 hours per year in Portland. To that end, employers may need to require employees to better track their work time, including what actions were performed and the location of the work. Since traveling time might be included (if it is part of the job), employees will need to know when they cross into the city and when they leave it.

Employees who work from home may present additional challenges. “Employee” is defined as “anyone employed to work within the geographic boundaries of the City” of Portland. So, employees who reside within the geographic boundaries of the City, but whose employers’ offices are located outside, may nevertheless be entitled to sick leave if allowed to work from home even though the other employees may not be covered by the ordinance.

There is an informational forum on the proposal set for January 23 at the Portland Building from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The proposal heads to the City Council on January 31 at 2:00 p.m. at City Hall. A final vote is expected in February, following inclusion of any amendments. If approved, the new ordinance would take effect January 1, 2014. We will continue to monitor the status of this proposal, and provide updates when necessary. Employers who believe that the proposal affects their business or who believe that amendments should be made may want to address their views to the Commissioners.