On July 1, 2017, Arizona’s mandatory paid sick-leave law went into effect. According to The Arizona Republic, the law mandates as many as 40 hours of paid sick leave for employees working for businesses and non-profit organizations. Exceptions include individuals who are employed by state or federal government, as well as sole proprietors. In addition to sick leave, employees are entitled to paid time off for matters relating to domestic violence, sexual abuse, emergency school closings, and other specific reasons.
With this introduction of mandatory sick days, some employees are experiencing situations in which they are enforced by their employers to use their sick days for vacation days. According to A.R.S. §23-372, the state’s new law does allow employers to legally satisfy the requirements of paid sick leave with a different paid leave policy. Section E of the Arizona Revised Statutes states that an employer with a paid leave policy, such as paid vacation, is not required to provide employees with additional paid sick time if the available amount of time is sufficient to meet accrual requirements.
Paid Sick Time Benefits in Arizona
An employee will generally accrue sick time based on the number of employees that a company has in total. Employers who have fewer than 15 employees must provide a minimum of 24 hours of paid sick leave annually. Employers with 15 or more employees must provide a minimum of 40 hours of paid sick leave annually. Headcount of all employees must include both part-time and full-time workers and accrual of sick time begins on the day that the employee is hired.
Employees are able to use their accrued sick time as soon as it’s earned. Paid sick time can be taken in increments as small as the paid-time-off (PTO) tracking system allows. Employees are entitled to use their paid sick time for a wide range of reasons, such as a physical illness, mental illness, public health emergency, pre-existing health condition, ongoing treatment, medical care for a family member, or absence due to sexual violence, domestic violence, or being the victim of a stalker. Family members that are generally included under the act include children, spouses, parents, and grandparents.
Vacation Leave Benefits in Arizona
In Arizona, employers are not legally required to provide employees with vacation benefits, whether paid or unpaid. However, if an employer does choose to provide employees with vacation benefits, the vacation time must comply with the terms established in the employment contract or applicable policy. Employers may also implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation leave policy which requires employees to use their vacation time by a specified date. Employers also have the right to cap the number of vacation days that an employee can accumulate over time.
PTO Employment Contracts or Policies
If there is an employment contract or employee policy that discusses the issue of using sick days for vacation days, the terms of the document must be honored. As employers are not legally required to offer vacation time, it is entirely legal for an employer to enforce rules that require employees to use their sick days first and foremost. Employers are free to set any terms or conditions that they choose when it comes to both paid and unpaid vacation days.
Employers also have the right to modify employment contracts or employee handbooks at any time. However, depending on the specific policy and the terms of employment, if an employee had formerly earned separate sick and vacation days, they may have to honor that for days that have already accrued. Going forward, the terms and conditions of the new contract or policy would apply. PTO policies must also adhere to anti-discrimination laws. This means that one employee cannot have a different leave policy due to his or her sex, religion, disability, race, or age over 40.
Speak with an Employment Law Attorney
Employees are expected to follow proper time-off request policies, including sick days and vacation days offered by employers. They must also return to work as agreed or could risk violating the company’s attendance and time off policies.
If you believe that your employer is going against his or her own employment contract or employee handbook in regard to the use of sick days and vacation time, the employer may be in violation of certain employment laws. To discuss your concerns or to speak with a qualified employment law attorney, reach out to the legal professionals at JacksonWhite Law.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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