Employees in Texas have the right to use paid vacation for their own health problems, doctor's appointments, and circumstances related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking. They also have the right to use paid sick leave to help family members who have the same conditions, appointments, or health circumstances. However, the state does not have a statewide policy that requires employers to provide paid sick leave. The Texas Minimum Wage Act (TMWA) states that workers must be paid a minimum wage and that municipalities cannot regulate wages in any way that is inconsistent with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
After the Austin City Council adopted an ordinance requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other organizations representing employers' interests (including the Society for Human Resources Management) filed a lawsuit alleging that the ordinance violated the Texas Constitution and that state minimum wage laws took precedence over it. Large companies may not feel the impact of the proposed ordinances if they already offer paid sick leave as part of their standard benefits package. However, federal sick leave regulations generally don't apply to employers with 50 employees or fewer. If Austin's sick leave ordinance goes into effect, business owners will have to comply with the rules simultaneously. Because employers have to pay 1 hour of sick leave for every hour worked, they actually pay more than the minimum wage to employees. Employers should remain alert to pending litigation in Dallas and San Antonio, although it appears that the sick leave ordinance will not take effect in Austin in the near future.
Employers can only verify the use of sick leave if the leave covers at least 3 or more consecutive days. Following the opinion of the Third District, the city of Austin requested a review from the Texas Supreme Court. The new law requires Texas employers to record time spent with exempt employees for the purpose of accumulating sick leave. Employers can only prohibit new employees from using sick leave if that employee's minimum period of employment is 1 year or more. Before the ordinance took effect, several business groups in Texas filed a lawsuit with the Travis County District Court seeking a temporary and permanent injunction to prohibit the ordinance from taking effect. In addition to the Austin ordinance, this lawsuit helped stop similar measures in Dallas and San Antonio.
There are no more grace periods or restrictions on an employee's ability to use cumulative sick leave. Supporters of the paid leave law argued that cities across the country are becoming more receptive to legislation on paid leave. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his team joined this lawsuit as co-plaintiffs on behalf of Texas. The ordinance required private employers of any size to offer paid sick leave to their employees, accumulated at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked.
Opponents were able to convince the court that a worker who took paid sick leave under the ordinance would receive higher pay for working the same hours as an employee who did not have paid sick leave. It appears that Austin's paid sick leave law will not take effect in the near future due to pending litigation in Dallas and San Antonio. Employers should remain vigilant and comply with any new regulations if they are enacted. In addition, employers should ensure that their employees are aware of their rights under existing laws and regulations.
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