Over the past several years, various cities (including Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, Jersey City, New York and Washington, D.C.) have enacted paid sick leave laws. In addition, California and Connecticut now have state-wide paid sick leave laws on the books. These laws, while having the common goal of providing guaranteed paid time off for employees who are ill or caring for ill family members, all vary in subtle ways. Therefore, it is extremely important to become familiar with the sick leave laws that apply where your company does business, as these laws are not one-size-fits-all.


Paid sick leave laws can be particularly tricky to navigate in the EMS industry, where employees often work longer hours and fewer shifts than in other workforces. For example, 24-hour shifts are so common for EMTs that California has a wage order specifically exempting ambulance drivers and attendants from daily overtime when they work 24-hour shifts in certain circumstances. California’s new paid sick leave law, known as the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, entitles employees to use 24 hours or three days of paid sick time per year. Many employers are curious to know whether 24-hour shift workers are entitled to use 24 hours of paid sick leave per year (one shift) or three days of sick leave (three shifts, which is actually 72 hours). The California paid sick leave law as currently written does not specifically address this issue. Thus, it is important for EMS companies doing business in California to consult with counsel or an HR specialist about this law.


Another question that often arises is whether an EMS provider’s current paid time off (PTO) or sick leave policies satisfies the applicable ordinance or statute. The answer to this question depends upon the requirements of the law at issue and how your company’s policy works. For example, Seattle’s paid sick leave ordinance, called the Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, allows employees to use paid sick leave not only for illness-related absences but for “safe time” absences such as the closure of a child’s school due to hazardous material. It is doubtful that any pre-existing sick leave or PTO policy specifically allows for time off for such a purpose.


In addition, each law has differing provisions regarding employee coverage (Fulltime? Part-time? Temporary employees?), employer coverage (Small businesses exempt? All companies covered?), waiting time periods (None? 90 days?), accrual rates, caps on leave and more.


In sum, paid sick leave laws are here to stay, and many legislators are hoping for an eventual nationwide paid sick leave law. These laws are highly individualized and complex, and many companies may believe they are in compliance when in fact they are not. It is important to review your paid sick leave policies and institute new policies where necessary for compliance.


Many EMS providers already provide paid sick leave benefits and thus may assume that there is no need to be familiar with these laws. However, nine times out of ten, the company’s policy—no matter how generous—does not strictly comply with the applicable paid sick leave law. This is because each law has its own intricate and unique requirements regarding coverage, accrual and use, at least some of which likely differ from a company’s standard paid sick leave or PTO policy. Moreover, it is not unusual for a company to be covered by both a state and local ordinance with differing rules, making compliance particularly tricky.