Georgia’s “kin care law” went into effect on July 1, 2017. Under this new law, Georgia employers with 25+ employees must permit employees who work 30+ hours per week to use up to five hours of their earned sick leave to take care of immediate family members. “Immediate family member” is defined as the employee’s child, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, parent, or dependents listed on the employee’s most recent tax return.
The new law is unlikely to create substantial burdens for Georgia employers. In addition to the 25-employee and 30-hour-per-week minimums, the new law is narrow for a number of reasons:
- The law does not require that employers offer sick leave, but rather regulates how employees may use it if employers do have such a policy.
- The law expressly provides that it does not create a cause of action against employers. The law does not state the remedy.
- Due to a last minute amendment to the original senate bill, it expires on July 1, 2020 unless renewed by the Georgia General Assembly.
- Excluded from the meaning of “sick leave” is paid long-term or short-term disability.
- The law exempts any employer that offers employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) to its employees.
Despite its narrow application, employers with 25+ employees that offer paid leave should review their applicable written policies to ensure that kin care is included as a basis for leave, train human resources and other decision makers, and stay advised of potential new laws in the future.
Georgia’s new law is relatively benign for employers compared to other paid sick leave laws being passed around the country, as it does not actually require employers to provide paid sick leave. However, following legislative trends in other states, it could be a precursor to additional employment regulations in the future. In 2016, for instance, Illinois passed a state kin care law which similarly to Georgia, provided that employees may use their paid sick time to care for a family member. It was later amended to expand the employee’s use of kin care leave to paid and unpaid leave. Additionally, when California first passed its kin care law in 2000, it similarly did not require employers to provide paid sick leave. However, in 2014, California passed a statewide paid sick leave law, which some say grew out of the kin care law over time.
While Georgia does not mandate that employers provide paid sick leave, to place the paid sick leave trend in context, ten years ago, only two cities in the nation had paid sick leave laws. Now, at least 30 cities and seven states plus Washington, D.C. mandate and regulate paid sick leave, and most of these laws were passed in the last few years. This trend in legislation has been coordinated and supported by national women’s, labor, and worker’s rights organizations, and has been adopted as an easily-relatable campaign promise for some politicians. In Georgia’s case, the kin care law was pushed by local groups such as 159 Georgia Together and the national women’s organization 9to5, which maintains an office in Georgia and has been successful in passing paid sick leave laws in other states.
The original legislation for Georgia’s “kin care law,” introduced by Republicans, passed by wide margins in both the Georgia senate and house of representatives. It follows an unsuccessful attempt to pass mandatory paid sick leave law the previous legislative session. If Georgia passes mandatory paid sick leave in the future, it will have to be on the state level rather than at the county or city level. In 2006, Georgia became the first state to “preempt,” or forbid, cities and counties from passing their own paid sick leave laws, thus reserving all legislative authority on the topic of paid sick leave to the Georgia General Assembly.
In summary, Georgia remains a hospitable state for employers with regard to employment laws, but employers should stay advised of other potential legislative developments down the road.