State and local laws mandating paid time off “for any reason” may be a way to please both employer and worker advocates.

The PTO measures, however, aren’t without drawbacks.

Maine and Nevada recently enacted laws that will require businesses to give workers paid time off for any reason, structured similarly to paid sick leave laws across the country. In the coming months, both the New York City Council and New Mexico’s Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners will consider proposals giving leave for any reason.

The state and local measures, while similar to PTO programs many employers already have, could result in more workers using more leave. Businesses may be able to reduce paperwork by advocating for the PTO model, but they also may find themselves managing absences more frequently.

“When you expand the reasons that people can take leave, people are more prone to take leave. I think that’s the big issue we’re seeing in the laws that have come out to far,” said Sebastian Chilco, knowledge management counsel for Littler Mendelson’s San Francisco office. “It will be a larger game change as far as business operations go.”

Starting Jan. 1, 2021 Maine employers with 10 or more workers will need to give employees 40 hours of paid leave per year that can be used for a range of reasons, from the flu to an unexpected house repair. The new law was a way to please business groups such as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which favored the more general paid leave mandate over earned sick leave insurance plans. About 85% of the state’s private-sector workers will be covered.

Employers with at least 50 employees in Nevada have only until Jan. 1, 2020 to put in place a paid leave plan that allows workers to accrue one hour of time off for every 52 hours worked. Employees won’t have to give a reason to take the leave, according to the law.

Similar to Existing Employer Plans

Advocates have moved the needle in the last decade in paid sick leave access for workers, said Vicki Shabo, senior fellow on paid leave policy and strategy at New America.

But as legislators and governors become more agreeable to paid sick leave proposals, the business community has increasingly been willing to bargain for carve-outs based on company size and expansions of reasons for leave to ensure their existing policies will be covered, she said.

In Bernalillo County, the Board of County Commissioners chose to table a proposed sick leave ordinance for the more general PTO ordinance after receiving feedback from the business community. One of the most significant recommendations from businesses was to substitute paid time off for paid sick leave because it would eliminate some paperwork required to track and record workers who are out sick, said Commisioner Maggie Hart Stebbins.

Employee groups were willing to support the change because it removes the burden on workers to prove they were ill, she said. The county ordinance, which would cover workers at nearly 1,350 businesses, is up for a vote in August. It would give workers one hour of paid time off for every 32 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year, starting Feb. 1, 2020.

Sick Leave Versus PTO

Leave for any reason mandates are meant to cover employee sick days, but they don’t always end up serving that purpose, Shabo said. For example, employees with general PTO banks often save their days off for vacation, and come to work sick, she said.

“Not all paid time off is created equal,” Shabo said.

In New York City, however, a proposal to require employers to give workers PTO may not have the same unintended consequences. Businesses in the city already are required to provide sick leave to private-sector workers and parental leave to municipal workers, while state law gives employees access to paid family and medical leave.

In that paid leave landscape, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposal to require private businesses with five or more employees to give at least 10 days of paid vacation a year would supplement the leave that workers already get, Shabo said.

The NYC proposal could extend leave benefits to about 500,000 full- and part-time workers who currently don’t have it. It’s awaiting action from the City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor.