Employers take notice: the group “Ohioans for Healthy Families,” a union-led coalition, has been collecting signatures for a proposal that would mandate at least seven paid sick days annually for all full-time Ohio workers. They appear to have more signatures than they need to push the initiative forward. Tuesday the group submitted a petition with 250,000 voter signatures to the Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. If the Secretary certifies that there are at least 120,683 valid signatures of registered voters, the proposed statute will be introduced in the General Assembly early next year. The General Assembly will then have 120 days to enact the requested legislation. If they don’t, the coalition can gather another 120,683 valid signatures to put the measure on the November 2008 ballot in the general election.
As currently drafted, the Ohio Healthy Families Act requires that all Ohio employers with more than 25 employees provide 7 paid sick days to full-time employees and a pro-rated amount of leave to all part-time employees. It allows employees to start accruing sick leave immediately upon being hired and also allows employees to begin using sick leave as soon as they have completed 90 days of employment. Employees can carry over unused sick leave year-to-year, capped at the 7 days. The leave could be used for physical, mental, or other medical illnesses, injuries, conditions, or treatment – including “preventive medical care” – whether for the employee or as needed to care for the employee’s child, parent, or spouse. Employers may not require medical certification for sick leave unless the leave period covers more than 3 consecutive work days. Employees can sue for any violation and recover actual damages, interest, treble damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
If enacted, the OHFA could impose significant new burdens on Ohio employers and exacerbate leave abuse problems that many employers are already experiencing. Employers already complain of widespread abuse and administrative compliance problems associated with the FMLA; the ability of employers to police abuse under the OHFA is even more limited because of the Act’s ban on obtaining medical information for short-term absences. Additionally, the OHFA’s accrual and tracking requirements impose substantial administrative burdens on Ohio employers. This is definitely a development that Ohio employers will want to watch as the ballot initiative effort presses forward in the ‘08 general election.