Calculating which employees get which benefits and when can be a complicated task for any business, but it can be especially daunting for farms, where many employees may be seasonal, do different tasks at different pay rates, or have a union or contracting company between them and the farm on which they are working. The new Oregon sick day law, mandating that most large and medium-sized businesses provide paid sick leave to their employees can, at first, look like another complication. But it doesn’t have to be.
As of January 1, 2016, employers with 10 or more workers – whether part-time, full-time, or seasonal – are required to give those workers at least 40 hours of paid sick leave. Employers with fewer workers must provide 40 hours of unpaid sick leave. The reasons for taking sick leave can include everything from a physical or mental ailment to a doctor’s appointment to caring for a sick child to dealing with the death of a family member.
Does it apply to your farm?
If you’re not sure whether or how you and your employees are affected, here are some points to consider:
Existing sick leave policies.
If you already offer paid sick leave that meets the new requirements, you probably don’t need to worry much about the new law.
If you have a small family farm, you probably don’t need to worry much either – individuals employed by family members are largely exempt. And chances are you have fewer than 10 employees anyway.
Labor contracting companies.
If you have a large farm, there’s a good chance you don’t employ your farm workers directly but instead rely on a contracting company. In that case, it will be the labor contracting company’s responsibility for implementing the new law and tracking the accrual and dispersal of sick leave – though you might try to have some input on how and when that leave is taken
The law includes seasonal workers, but – important to note if you employ migrant workers – employees can only take their paid leave after they have worked for you for at least 90 calendar days. But note that if an employee quits and is rehired within six months, their sick leave accrual and progress toward 90 days picks up where it left off.
Assuming the new law applies to you, there are a few decisions you will have to make. Even if you already have a system in place, it may be time to evaluate whether your system has been working as hoped. Some points to consider:
The law allows for a front-loading system in which employees are granted 40 hours of sick leave at the start of the year or for a system in which sick leave accrues over time, usually at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. It’s up to you as the employer to decide what makes the most sense for you.
Determining which rate a sick employee is paid for the time they missed can be especially complicated in farm work, where different tasks are paid at different rates and an employee might be performing several tasks over the course of a week. For piece-rate work, such as harvesting, the employee and employers are supposed to have agreed upon a rate of pay ahead of time, based on what they could have been expected to make during that missed work. The Oregon Farm Bureau is pushing for a new law that would clarify this process by simply paying piece-rate employees the minimum wage for sick leave.
Hardship and verification.
If you as the employer think an employee is abusing their sick time, the burden is on you to establish that. You’re allowed to ask for medical verification if sick time has been used for four or more consecutive workdays, but you will have to pay any costs required to get that verification.
Hourly sick time.
Similarly, an employee is allowed to take sick time in hourly or even less than hourly chunks, and if taking leave hourly would cause you, as the employer, hardship then it’s on you to prove that. Additional guidelines on the hardship exemptions relating to sick time are available from the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Calculating and tracking sick leave for a number of employees at once can get complicated. Deciding on a system to track leave accrual and days off makes this a lot easier, both to ensure compliance with the law and for your own planning purposes.
It may sound complicated and expensive, but working with your advisor will make the new Oregon sick leave law less of a headache.