Local Governments Lead the Charge on Providing Emergency Leave to Employees

A historically heated conversation around paid sick leave might come to a boil today, Wednesday, April 1, when the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) goes into effect. Two things will change:

  1. Certain employees will be entitled to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave over and above any time already taken off.
  2. Certain employees who have been on the job for at least 30 days are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave if they cannot work or telework due to a quarantine or isolation order, either they or their family members are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or they are caring for a child whose school or place of care has temporarily closed.

Review the Department of Labor’s FAQ on the FFCRA here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey, over 90 percent of local government workers have access to paid sick leave. In addition to this regular paid sick leave, some employers also offer ad hoc, temporary sick leave or, when feasible, allow or require people to work remotely.

According to the survey, over 50 percent of all employers, including local governments, provide five to nine days of paid sick leave after one year of service. Over 90 percent of local government workers are offered a fixed number of sick days per year, with a carryover provision from year to year, and about 37 percent of those workers have a limit on days accumulated by the carryover provision, which means that a portion of unused sick days may not carry over to the following year.

So in order to accumulate up to two weeks of paid sick leave, an employee would need to work for a local government for up to two years or more before becoming eligible for a full two weeks. The emergency sick leave provision of the FFCRA will afford most local government employees the opportunity to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additional regulations are anticipated to address questions for small employers with under 50 employees who may be excluded from FMLA.

The FFCRA provides private employers with refundable payroll tax credits to offset the cost of providing employees with paid leave. However, this does not apply to local governments as employers, which means that municipalities have an added financial burden and must budget for this emergency leave. Despite this potential insecurity, several cities are already leading the charge in this space, highlighted in NLC’s local action tracker.

Madison, Wisconsin acted on March 16, when Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway granted two weeks of emergency leave time for COVID-related absences to all city employees.

Fresno, California acted on March 18, when City Manager Wilma Quan signed an executive order stating that city employees who are directed to remain home will not be required to expend accrued leave time or take leave without pay. According to the executive order, city employees who elect to stay home for their own health, for the purposes of childcare, or other family care reasons, may utilize any accrued leave balance for that purpose. In the case where all leave balances have already been exhausted, the order states the employee may borrow against future leave balance accruals.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee acted on March 23, when city leaders adopted and implemented Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive order to allow city employees access to emergency leave in the case that they need to be off work and/or in quarantine due to coronavirus.

Roseville, California acted on March 17, when the city officially proclaimed a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. The executive order suspends work-related travel through May 8 and pays administrative leave for regular employees 65 and older or with chronic health conditions who cannot work from home.

SeaTac, Washington acted on March 16, when the city issued a proclamation of emergency, along with neighboring Washington cities, and decided to front-load all of an employee’s 2020 sick leave into each staff member’s sick leave accounts now to help employees address childcare and illness-related needs during this period.

Cities should also consider any recent changes to state laws, which may provide additional paid time off over and above the FFCRA during this pandemic. State municipal leagues are providing guidance in this space. Specifically, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, and others are breaking down FFCRA to its most minute details to help clarify how local governments will be impacted.

But if over 90 percent of local governments provide their employees access to paid sick leave, why is the topic such a heated one? That’s because approximately 39 percent of American workers in the private sector do not have paid sick leave. There’s no federal law in the United States requiring paid sick leave law for the private sector, but currently, 13 states and Washington, D.C. require paid sick leave. In lieu of state action, many localities have innovated in this space, and now over 30 localities require paid sick leave. Still, 20 states have passed paid leave preemption laws prohibiting cities from requiring local employers to offer paid sick leave or other forms of paid family or medical leave.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, local elected officials want to know what they can do to keep their residents safe in an increasingly uncertain world. While local governments can set a model for their communities by enacting paid leave for municipal employees, they can also explore options to pass paid leave ordinances for local businesses.

View NLC’s webinar on this topic, What Cities Need to Know About Implementing Changes to Paid Sick Leave and Family and Medical Leave. Visit covid19.nlc.org for more resources for local leaders.

About the Authors:

Patrick Hain small

Patrick Hain is the Program Manager for Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.



Anita-Yadavalli-smallAnita Yadavalli is the Program Director of City Fiscal Policy at NLC. Anita leads NLC’s Public Sector Retirement initiative, with a focus on research and education for city leaders on retiree healthcare benefits, as well as research and programming on other city fiscal policy issues.


Spencer-Wagner-small.jpgSpencer Wagner is the Program Specialist with NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative. His research focuses on state preemption of local policy and its impacts.