By David Warner
On September 15, 2015, President Obama signed the Executive Order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to at least seven days per year. Both the EO and its implementing regulations, finalized on September 30, 2016, made clear that the EO only applied to “new contracts,” defined as contracts with the Federal Government that result from solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017, or that are awarded outside the solicitation process on or after January 1, 2017. With that date a year in the rearview mirror, the “bill” is beginning to come due.
As previously reported, one unexpected wrinkle with the EO’s implementation was the DOL’s establishment of an “alternate health and welfare rate” that purports to exclude the sick leave portion of the calculated health and welfare rate. Specifically, as of August 1, 2017, the H&W rate for contracts subject to the sick leave EO is $4.13 per hour – $.28 lower than the $4.41 H&W rate applicable to contracts that do not require paid sick leave. While the higher H&W rate will effectively be phased out as contracts expire and are replaced with “new contracts,” for the next several years contractors will be required to closely monitor their contracts to ensure the correct H&W rate is applied.
In addition, a common question contractors pose as more and more contracts require paid sick leave is whether they can combine sick and vacation entitlements into a single paid time off or “PTO” bucket. Per the DOL’s sick leave FAQ, “Sure, why not?” But while the “single bucket of leave” structure may seem simpler to administer, there are several hidden compliance challenges, particularly for contracts subject to the Service Contract Labor Standards (“SCLS”).
First, under the SCLS vacation does not accrue over time but instead “cliff vests” in a single lump on a given employee’s anniversary date. Thus, an immediate challenge is coordinating the vesting of the two types of leave within the bucket – i.e., sick leave accruing annually over a calendar year while vacation cliff vesting on a single date. In addition, SCLS has actual cash value for the employee – i.e., once vested the employee must either take or be paid for the leave at the earliest of his or her next anniversary date, the end of their employment or the end of the contract. In contrast, sick leave has no cash value – i.e., it is only paid if taken. Finally, per the above, SCLS vacation cannot be carried forward from year to year. In contrast, EO sick leave must be permitted to be carried forward from year to year (though the carry-over can be capped at fifty-six (56) hours).
So, while the combined PTO structure remains a theoretical possibility, it is not at all clear that it can be administered compliantly, or at least done so as efficiently as administering sick and vacation leave separately.
About the Author:
David Warner is a seasoned legal counselor with extensive experience in the resolution and litigation of complex employment and business disputes. His practice is focused on the government contractor, nonprofit, and hospitality industries. David leads Centre’s audit, investigation, and litigation practices.