What Is Oregon Paid Sick Leave?

Oregon paid sick leave laws state that employers in Oregon with 10 or more workers must provide employees with paid sick leave. They must pay employees at the regular rate of pay for leave. Employees in Portland who worked for employers with more than six workers were already covered by an existing paid sick leave law. 

With Senate Bill 454, Oregon joined three other US states in requiring employers to offer a paid sick leave. Though many business groups in general were against the new law, those who favored it saw that it could aid workers with lower wages, and quoted a study showing that almost half of workers in the private sector in Oregon do not receive sick days. Paid sick leave is required of employers who have 10 or more employees. The amount of paid sick leave required is 40 hours (5 days).

Now the law covers most of the workforce in Oregon, so workers who are

  • seasonally employed
  • part-time employees
  • full-time workers
  • short-term workers

will be able to gain sick time. An exception was made for Portland since the city passed a sick leave law in 2014. Senate Bill 454 applies to every employer throughout Oregon. Employers with previous leave policies must check to ensure they are in compliance. Independent contractors, as well as some participants of work-study and work-training programs, and people who work for a parent, husband or wife, or child are granted some limited exceptions.

This law provides two methods to earn sick time:

  • the accrual method - which is based on the number of hours worked

·        the frontloading method -  where the employer assigns a certain number of hours at the start of the year

Employees can now use leave for vacation, illness, and care of relatives. Another change is that an employer now has to allow an employee to carry over accrued, unused sick time from year to year. If there is no established regular rate of pay, sick time shall be compensated at a rate of at least the applicable statutory minimum wage.

Employers that give employees paid time off under another policy do not need to give any more paid sick time, so long as they allow employees to use a minimum of 40 hours of sick time per year for the same purposes as under the law. Alternatively, at the end of a year, the employer can cash out the leave which has accrued if the entire annual accrual amount is frontloaded at the beginning of the next year.

Eligibility Requirements for Paid Sick Time

After 91 days of being employed, an employee can use accrued sick time. For every 30 hours worked, one hour of sick leave is accrued. After working 40 hours, you can accrue 1.3 hours. Unless it poses a burden to the employer, taking sick leave in hourly amounts is permitted.

Smaller employers can attract and hold on to employees by using an offer of paid sick time as a benefit. Private and public sector employers are covered under the law, but this may not apply to union workers. Also, federal employees are excluded under the law.

Uses for Paid Sick Time

Both types of sick time (paid and unpaid) can be used for injuries, physical illness or mental health issues, doctors’ appointments, preventive care, or treatment. You can also use sick time for your own health situation or caring for a relative with any of the mentioned conditions.

Sick time may be applied in situations which involve legal proceedings for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. This could include situations where a person has to meet with the police or law enforcement, go to court, or seek counseling as a victim.

If the employee has a sick child who needs to be tended to at home s/he can use the sick time for this purpose. It may be used for caring for a baby, or a newly adopted or foster child under the age of 18 years, or even for an adopted or foster child over 18 who cannot take care of him/herself due to mental or physical disability.

Sick leave may be applied in the event of a death in the family.  

An employee may use sick leave in the event of a public health emergency, for instance in response to an order of a general or specific public health crisis, or when the employer excludes the employee from the work site by law or for reasons pertaining to health.

Sick leave can also be donated to another employee if it is used for one of the permissible reasons and if the employer's policy allows it.

Definition of a Family Member

Both the new law and the Oregon Family Leave Act define a family member with the same definition - it includes:

  • parents
  • in-laws
  • spouses
  • children (can be biological children, adopted, or foster kids)
  • grandchildren
  • grandparents
  • anyone the employee is legally responsible as a parent for

The definition also includes a child, whether adopted, foster, biological, or stepchild of an employee or the child of an employee's same-sex domestic partner.

Medical Verification for Paid Sick Leave

Employers can ask for medical proof if one of their employees uses sick time for more than three days; however, medical verification is not required. If the employer requests it, the employer is responsible for the costs that may arise with obtaining the verification.

If an employee is potentially misusing sick time, absenteeism is common, or the employee fails to provide proper notice, the employer may require medical verification too.

An employee is expected to offer the employer reasonable notification if they know they will be taking sick time, for instance, if it will be used for a doctor's appointment. If the sick time is not expected, the employee should give notice to the employer as soon as he/she can.

Under this law, employers may ask for advance notification as long as it doesn't exceed 10 calendar days, through the standard procedural method for any absence that is expected and can also require notification at the beginning of the shift (if circumstances allow), or as promptly as possible for an absence that is not foreseen. Not providing a notification doesn't give the employer the right to deny sick time unless it has been expressly outlined in the policy and the employee has received a copy of the written policy.

If an employee overuses sick leave (more than three consecutive scheduled days of work) or if there is cause to believe the employee is abusing sick leave privileges, an employer may ask that the employee provide proof of the request within a 15 day period or within three days if abuse is suspected. The employee, in turn, must give the requested proof. Note that the employer doesn't have to pay sick time until the employee has provided documentation or other form of proof.

Any need for verification or documentation that the employer demands has to be stated in company policy and any consequences for failing to provide the proof should also be in its written sick time policies. 

Employee and Employer Preparedness for the New Law

Both employers and employees should know the ins and outs of sick leave rules for their workplace. To this end, employers must thoroughly review sick leave stipulations and need to have a posted policy stating the rules about what happens if sick time is abused.

If there is a suspicion by the employer that an employee has used sick time for other purposes, it's advised to have a written record showing a record of suspected abuse. In this situation, the employer should discuss the issue with the person and tell them how they should remedy the situation.  

Employers must make sure timekeeping, payroll, and benefits systems properly calculate, track, and detail accrued and used sick time. Employers must educate those involved in managing attendance so that they know what are the legal requirements, including the occasions when absences are protected and which because of this, can't be denied or cause disciplinary action or termination. In addition, employers must provide written notice of the amount of accrued and unused sick leave available at least quarterly.

For those employers already offering some form of paid sick leave, the new law is less of an issue. However, smaller or medium size employers, especially those without a large profit margin, are deeply concerned about the increases in costs. Administration concerns include the tracking of the sick leaves and who will oversee the leaves. Another concern is that employees who are not sick are going to take paid sick time as vacation.

Employer Noncompliance

Employees can file complaints against their employer with the Bureau of Labor and Industries for not providing sick time and can also take legal action if an employer retaliates against an employee for requesting sick time. If a request for sick time is denied, an employee can file a formal complaint with an employer through the human resources department or can even lodge a formal complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries. This division has the power to investigate a situation between an employee and employer and can impose civil fines for noncompliance.

In certain situations, employees can even file a civil lawsuit if they have been discriminated against for asking about or using sick leave. There are a few different actions that the Bureau of Labor and Industries has the authority to take, including imposing civil fine, which can sometimes exceed $1,000 if it was deliberate.

Consequences for Not Providing Notice

The employer may discipline the employee for violating formal company rules, but not for using sick time. For instance, an employer may discipline an employee for violating workplace policies and rules if the employee fails to notify his/her employer as required by these rules or if the employee fails to make a reasonable effort to schedule a sick leave in a manner that does not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer. 

Conversion From Accrual to Frontloading                                  

At the beginning of each year, the law allows the employer to frontload 40 hours of sick leave. Tracking the accrual of sick leave is eliminated by frontloading (although use must still be recorded to meet the need each quarter).

If an employer changes to a frontloading system instead of accrual based on hours worked, and fewer than 40 hours leave has been accrued by the employee (or if the employer requires that sick time be used in small amounts of more than an hour, fewer than 56 hours), the employer must frontload the sum of:

·        The total number of hours accrued through the employee's accrual system; and

·        The difference between the amount of accrued hours and 40 hours (or 56 hours).

If more than 40 hours of sick leave has been accrued by the employee, the employer may not frontload a number of hours less than the number of hours already accrued. For new employees who haven't worked a full year, the amount frontloaded may be pro-rated.

Other Provisions

If an employee uses sick time for an unspecified amount of time, the employer may determine the number of hours to count as sick time based on the number of hours that a replacement employee works to cover the shift, or the hours worked by an employee in a similar position in the past. 

If the employee is an on-call worker, he or she can use sick time for any hours they have been scheduled to work. All employees are entitled to use sick time in the way it was earned.

Note that the regular rate of pay does not include overtime, holiday pay, tips, bonus payments, other premium rates, and other types of incentive pay. Upon separation from employment, employers do not have to pay employees for accrued sick leave, but only the unused part of sick leave.

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