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Arizona Voters Approve Paid Sick Leave for Employees and Minimum Wage Increase
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The election results are in, and President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Secretary Hillary Clinton has the nation abuzz and undoubtedly will for the foreseeable future.  However, the Presidential race was not the only notable race or measure on the ballot.  Although the dust hasn’t quite settled from last night’s historic vote, there a number of approved ballot measures that employers will need to understand and prepare for immediately.

Specifically, in Arizona, the Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Time Off Initiative, also known as Proposition 206, passed by a 59% to 41% margin.  The paid sick time component of the law will go into effect July 1, 2017, while the minimum wage increase begins in just a few months by raising the Arizona minimum wage to $10.00 per hour effective January 1, 2017.

The first component of the new Arizona law inserts Article 8.1 entitled “Earned Paid Sick Time” into Section 5, Title 23, Chapter 2 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.  The new paid sick time law applies to covered employers regardless of the number of employees; a covered employer with at least one Arizona employee is obligated to comply with the law.  Accrued paid sick time may be used for the employee for his or her own mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; or to care for a family member’s – as the term family member is defined under the statute – mental or physical illness, injury or health condition.  Here are the major points of emphasis:

  • All employees will accrue paid sick time at a minimum rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked for the employer.

  • Employees of an employer with 15 more employees may cap maximum annual accrual of paid sick time at 40 hours, while smaller employers may cap the maximum annual accrual at 24 hours.

  • Employees who are exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) will be assumed to work 40 hours in each work week for purposes of calculating paid sick time accrual, unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours, in which case earned paid sick time accrues based on actual hours worked.

  • Unused earned paid sick time must be carried forward to the following year consistent with the accrual limits of the statute. Employers may forego this requirement by following a procedure specified in the statute.

  • A 90-day probationary period for new employees may apply to the use, but not accrual, of paid sick time.

  • The new law includes specific employee protections making it unlawful for an employer to retaliate or discriminate against an employee for exercise of his or her use of paid sick time.

Further complicating the new law will be the statutory provision allowing employers to do away with the accrual method in favor of simply providing an employee at the beginning of the year all earned paid sick time that an employee is expected to accrue during the year.  (This provision brings Arizona’s law relatively on par with neighboring California’s paid sick time law.)  The new Arizona law contains other provisions explaining issues such as an employer’s ability to pay its employees for earned, unused paid sick time rather than carrying it forward to the next year; notice required by the employee for use of paid sick time; and the employer’s ability to request documentation to verify proper use of paid sick time.   Notably, the law does not require the payment of accrued but unused paid sick time upon termination of employment.

Employers should note that the provisions of the new paid sick time law are minimum requirements, and nothing in the new law prevents an employer from establishing a more generous policy or continuing one already in place.

The second component of the new Arizona law adjusts Arizona Revised Statute § 23-363 to require a gradual increase of Arizona’s minimum wage beginning this coming January.  Arizona’s new minimum wage will be $10.00 per hour effective January 1, 2017.  Thereafter, the minimum wage will be raised to $10.50 effective January 1, 2018, $11.00 effective January 1, 2019, and $12.00 per hour effective January 1, 2021.  Beginning in 2021, the minimum wage will continue to be adjusted annually based on Arizona’s cost of living.  Employers with employees who customarily and regularly receive tips as part of their income may continue to pay employees $3.00 less than the minimum wage in accordance with Arizona’s minimum wage act if the employer can prove the employee is earning at or beyond the minimum wage after tips are counted.

Arizona’s passing of Proposition 206 continued a national trend of answering demands for paid sick time and increasing the minimum wage.  Maine and Colorado also agreed to raise the minimum wage, while Washington voters approved of both a minimum wage increase and to provide paid sick leave for employees in similar fashion to Arizona’s measure.

Arizona employers are encouraged to reach out to local employment attorneys for additional guidance or as questions may arise.

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