PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Many Rhode Island employers will have to start providing paid sick leave to their employees starting July 1, but the R.I. Department of Labor and Training will wait six months before assessing fines for violations, Eyewitness News has confirmed.
In a June 6 letter to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, DLT Director Scott Jensen writes that the department will take an “educate then enforce” approach, allowing employers who are not complying with the new law to fix the issues and compensate employees without having to pay the penalty.
“This practice will be in place for all initial compliance investigations until January 1, 2019,” Jensen writes.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act into law back in September. Starting July 1, the law requires employers with 18 or more employees to provide up to three days of paid sick time in 2018, four days in 2019 and five days every year after that.
The DLT will be enforcing the law if employers fail to pay the sick time or punish or threaten employees who use their sick time. Regulations adopted on May 31 include a $100 fine for a first offense and $100 to $500 for subsequent offenses, with each day of the violation counting as a separate offense.
DLT spokesperson Nora Crowley said the six-month grace period for violations is in anticipation of “bumps in the road” as businesses navigate the requirements around the newly required benefit.
“Until January 1, 2019, if DLT investigators find that an employer is acting in good faith, we would ensure the impacted employee receives due compensation, but there would be no administrative penalties assessed to the employer, as long as corrective action is taken to prevent further issues,” Crowley said in an email.
Elizabeth Suever, a spokesperson for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern about the DLT grace period while the law is in full effect.
“While we appreciate the intent of the Department of Labor and Training to allow employers additional time to comply with the law, we are concerned that this grace period will create a trap for employers because they can still be sued for noncompliance,” Suever said.
State Rep. Aaron Regunberg, the Providence Democrat who sponsored the House sick leave bill last year, said he was fine with the grace period.
“Our goal with this is not to punish folks, but to create a culture change,” Regunberg told Eyewitness News. “I think this is consistent with that.”
The DLT plans to publish guidance documents on its website to help employers understand the law on. In the meantime, Crowley said employers with questions can reach out to Assistant Director Matthew Weldon.