Virginia Enacts Limited Paid Leave

By:  Jonathan R. Mook

At the start of this year’s Virginia General Assembly session, proponents of paid sick and family medical leave for employees had high hopes that the legislature would follow the lead of other states and pass legislation to mandate that Virginia employers provide paid leave for their employees, especially in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

As we reported earlier in DG Read, Delegate Elizabeth R. Guzman of Prince William County and Senator Barbara A. Favola of Arlington each introduced proposed legislation specifying a paid leave mandate. Although the details of the bills differed in terms of those employers that would be covered and the circumstances and amount of paid leave required, the proposed bills represented a significant step in what has become a nationwide push to recognize paid leave as a universally accepted employee right.

Legislative Action
In early February, the Virginia House of Delegates passed Del. Guzman’s Bill, which would guarantee paid sick leave for certain “essential workers,” like first responders, grocery store employees, home health and domestic workers, and prison personnel.  The proposal required employers to provide these workers with forty hours of paid sick leave per year, with exemptions for retail companies that have fewer than 25 workers.  The Bill also allowed covered employers to seek a hardship waiver.

After passing the House, the Bill went to the Virginia Senate, where it was considered by the Commerce and Labor Committee.  Although the House Bill was supported by the Virginia Interfaith Center and a coalition of small businesses, the legislation faced tough sledding in the Senate Committee.

Accordingly, the Bill was scaled back to cover only home healthcare workers serving Medicaid patients, and those workers would be guaranteed up to five days of paid sick leave per year.  In its scaled back form, the paid leave legislation was passed by both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates, and it is expected that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam will sign the legislation into law.

Impact of New Law
Although this year’s General Assembly took only a small step toward mandating paid sick and family leave for employees, the legislation covering home healthcare workers still will have a significant impact.  That’s because it is estimated that there are some 40,000 caregivers in the Commonwealth who likely will be covered.  Thus, the door certainly has been opened for concerted efforts in future Virginia legislative sessions to expand an employee paid leave mandate beyond home healthcare employees.

Future Paid Leave Efforts
We can expect that at next year’s General Assembly session, the advocates for paid employee leave will be back in Richmond and will continue their efforts to push for more comprehensive legislation.  Accordingly, all Virginia employers need to keep abreast of future developments on the paid leave front.  You do not want to be caught unawares when a paid leave requirement affecting your business operations is enacted into law.