Fact Sheet

USING SICK LEAVE TO CARE FOR FAMILY MEMBERS:

ISSUES AND OPTIONS

 

I. Highlights

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 180, S.D. 1 (2002) requested the Legislative Reference Bureau to compare recent Hawaii legislative proposals to require employers to permit employees to use sick leave to care for sick family members and Hawaii’s family leave law, as codified in Chapter 398, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

In addition to the requested comparison, the study also summarizes and compares the Hawaii family leave law and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. It also provides information on related issues such as an overview of traditional sick leave, other states’ approaches to providing employees with wage replacement benefits for leave taken to care for sick family members, and current use of sick leave to care for family members by Hawaii employees.

 

II. Findings

    1. Although family leave to care for certain family members with a serious health condition is recognized in many state and federal laws, family leave is generally unpaid leave. Federal law and Hawaii laws allow twleve and four weeks of unpaid family leave, respectively. Substitution of sick leave (paid leave) for unpaid family leave is permitted, subject to certain conditions.
    2. Traditional sick leave is used when the employee’s own health is at issue. No state or federal law requires employers to provide sick leave to employees.
    3. Recent proposed legislation to amend Hawaii’s family leave law would have added unnecessary confusion in interpretation and application of the law. Including the state and political subdivisions as an "employer" only for the purposes of sick leave would have caused avoidable uncertainty and the interaction between the proposed new law and the current use of sick leave in section 398-4(b) is uncertain.
    4. A few states require employers who offer sick leave to permit employees to use sick leave to care for sick family members: California, Washington, and Minnesota.
    5. California recently expanded its disability insurance program to establish a Family Temporary Disability Insurance program that will provide six weeks of wage replacement benefits up to a maximum of $728 weekly. The new program funding is shared by employers and employees.
    6. Alternatives to provide benefits for family leave include expansion of unemployment insurance programs, family leave insurance funds, and tax credits for employers who offer paid family leave.
    7. There is no law mandating a uniform standard for public or private employees’ use of sick leave to care for ill family members in Hawaii.
    8. Federal law allows most federal employees to use up to twelve workweeks of sick leave to care for certain family members with a serious health condition.
    9. The need for expanded family leave benefits is significant in Hawaii because of the number of women in our workforce, our high cost of living, and the longest life expectancy in the nation.

 

III. Frequently Asked Questions

A. What is Hawaii’s family leave law?

Answer: Hawaii family leave law entitles certain employees to a total of four weeks of family leave during any calendar year upon the birth of a child of an employee or adoption of a child, or to care for the employee’s child, spouse or reciprocal beneficiary, or parent with a serious health condition. The law provides job protection by requiring the employee to be returned to the same or equivalent position upon return to the office after taking family leave. Unlike federal law, Hawaii law does not expressly require an employer to maintain health benefits for an employee on family leave.

 

B. Who qualifies for family leave under state law?

Answer: An employee who works for an employer with one hundred employees and who has worked not fewer than six consecutive months for the employer from whom family leave benefits are sought. As of July 1, 2002, state and county employees are no longer entitled to family leave under Chapter 398, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

 

C. Is family leave paid or unpaid?

Answer: Only unpaid family leave is guaranteed by Hawaii law. An employee or employer may substitute any of the employee’s accrued paid leave for the four weeks of unpaid family leave. An employee’s sick leave, however, may be substituted for unpaid family leave only if an employer’s policy or practice permits such use of sick leave, or upon mutual agreement.

 

D. What about state and county employees?

Answer: Generally, eligible state and county employees are entitled to family leave benefits of up to twelve workweeks of unpaid family leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. For many public employees, sick leave issues are determined by collective bargaining; collective bargaining agreements may allow substitution of sick leave to care for certain family members with a serious health condition. The work conditions of public employees excluded from collective bargaining are adjusted according to Chapter 89C, Hawaii Revised Statutes. There is no law that establishes a uniform standard regarding use of sick leave to care for ill family members that addresses state and county employees.

 

 

Back