President Obama has unveiled a handful of proposals that would give more employees more ability to be paid when absent from work for a variety of reasons.

The President called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would allow employees to earn up to seven days per year of paid sick time.  Employees would be able to use the days for their own or a family member’s illness, preventive care or for reasons related to domestic violence. A federal paid sick leave (PSL) law would add to the patchwork of PSL laws we already have as a result of four states and 16 other jurisdictions having enacted such laws.  The President encouraged more states and cities to pass PSL laws although, if the Healthy Families Act is passed, the benefit of their doing so is not at all clear.

The President also proposed ways to transform unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act into paid leave.  These approaches include enacting legislation to provide federal funding to states to offer paid FMLA programs and to pay federal employees for six weeks of family or parental leave.  The President also will sign a Presidential Memorandum “directing agencies to allow for the advance of six weeks of paid sick leave for parents of a new child, employees caring for ill family members, and other sick leave-eligible uses.”

As those who spend their time in the leave management arena know, complying with the various federal, state and local leave laws that require leave or may require leave as an accommodation has become a huge compliance challenge. Some multi-state employers have created leave management departments just to administer these laws.  As we have said repeatedly, the patchwork challenge has nothing to do with the social question of whether employees should or should not be paid when sick. The challenge is the proliferation of leave and attendance laws, how they interact with each other, and the compliance issues they present. With these new proposals coming just two weeks into the new year, it’s a safe bet that the patchwork will grow in 2015.