Metro, News

University changes policy to expand paid sick, safe leave to all University employees

Workers can take time off to recover from illness, care for family, handle safety concerns

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2018

All University employees became eligible to take paid sick and safe leave after the University adjusted its policy to comply with the Rhode Island Sick and Safe Leave Act this month. The updated policy extends the amount of paid leave available to part-time and student employees and broadens the circumstances qualifying for leave-taking, said Jeffrey Jakulevicius, the University’s benefit compliance analyst.

The law allows employees to receive paid leave to care for any member of their household or to handle safety issues such as stalking or domestic violence, in addition to coping with personal health issues, said Nora Crowley, the chief public affairs officer at the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. 

Over the past few months, Jakulevicius said he worked with the Director of Benefits Drew Murphy to adapt the University’s paid leave policies to the legislation. Now, undergraduate and graduate student workers can take off up to six hours through Dec. 31 and break up this amount into 15 minute increments.

Under the new policy, employees can leave work to address safety issues or take care of personal health problems, and students can potentially provide care for their roommate under an expanded definition of caregiver, Murphy said.

When taking time off, University employees are expected to follow normal call-in procedures.“We would like to make sure that if somebody is actually sick, … they don’t have to make the decision between not being paid and having to come into work,” Jakulevicius said, adding that the new act also works to promote productivity in the work place.

While the act allows employers to ask workers for documentation after missing consecutive days of work, the University’s policy does not mandate employees to present evidence explaining their absence.

“We felt that the cost-benefit wasn’t there (and) that we should just allow employees to request the time as needed without forcing them to provide documentation because just the conversation alone that surrounds the documentation could be problematic,” Jakulevicius said.

Previously the University’s sick leave policy only applied to employees working “50 percent time or more,” Murphy said. Since this policy complied with the Sick and Safe Leave Act, these employees were not given additional sick days beyond the 12 they currently receive each year, he added. But these workers can now designate up to three of these days in 2018 for caregiving or safety concerns.

The RI Sick and Safe Leave Act, which went into effect in mid-summer after Gov. Gina Raimondo signed it in September 2017, applies to state employers — like the University — with 18 or more employees, Crowley said. With the act’s implementation, employees are guaranteed to receive 24 hours of sick and safe leave in 2018, 32 hours in 2019 and up to 40 hours by 2020.

The Department for Labor and Training is currently treating the Sick and Safe Leave Act’s first six months as a “grace period” for employers to make the necessary changes to their leave-taking policies, Crowley said. If an employer denies an employee benefits provided under the Sick and Safe Leave Act, the department will work to ensure the worker’s compensation. But the department will wait until Jan. 1 to penalize employers for noncompliance, she added.

“It’s a great bill,” said Aaron Ziemer ’19, a member of the Brown Student Labor Alliance. “It’s fundamentally important that everyone has the ability to take off work no matter how much money they have.”