President Obama used Labor Day to make another move on employment law, this time advancing his promise of a paid sick leave executive order. And though this won’t apply to all employers, with this new order Obama could be making a national sick leave law the easiest thing to root for.

Credit: Flickr user Mr. Wright
Credit: Flickr user Mr. Wright

Paid sick leave, though growing in popularity amongst voters, is often still controversial amongst employers and Congress. Even still, it’s definitely on the rise. And though Obama has been outspoken on the issue before, his latest executive order confirms that where he can act, he will.

Yesterday, the President signed an executive order that guaranteed employees governed by the Davis-Bacon Act:

  • An hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, which can also be used to care for loved ones, for up to 7 days or more of sick leave annually.
  • Unused sick leave will roll over year-to-year, and any employers rehired by a covered contractor within 12 months after a job separation will have their unused leave reinstated. However payment for unused sick leave upon job separation is not required.
  • It will take into account issues of stalking, sexual assault, or domestic violence when it goes into effect in 2017
  • The order also notes that “nothing in this order shall excuse noncompliance with or supersede any applicable Federal or State law, any applicable law or municipal ordinance, or a collective bargaining agreement requiring greater paid sick leave or leave rights”

According to the White House’s fact sheet, the order will give approximately 300,000 people working on federal contracts the ability to earn paid sick leave. But for many—including the President—that’s not enough. A reported 40 percent of private-sector workers still have no access at all to paid sick leave, and one Census Bureau study found 19 percent of respondents quit their job in order to take leave—with five percent was let go.

With this order, Obama has also renewed his call for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would require any businesses with more than 15 employees to provide paid sick leave. Those opponents, who were already critical of Obama’s use of executive power, won’t be pleased by this latest one. And they probably won’t be that receptive to reignite the Healthy Families Act.

But employers increasingly might be. Especially since with the executive order is just the latest in an increasingly complex and fluctuating patchwork of paid sick leave and time off laws: Four states plus Washington, D.C. already have paid sick leave, with California and Massachusetts both enacting paid sick leave laws this summer, while plenty of cities and counties have their own standards.

That miscellany is something larger companies are already starting to feel the strain of. As Jennifer Rubin writes on Employment Matters, appealing to the greatest common denominator (in this case, places with the most amount of paid sick leave) is already standard practice:

There is an appeal to employing a uniform “most favored nation” approach to wage and hour and other employment laws because it is administratively streamlined, and the chance for a mistake, even an innocent one, is lessened if all personnel are fully trained and familiar with the applicable policies. A high bar also positively impacts morale. While geographic location discrimination is not yet a protected employment category, having more favorable employment policies for one local office which do not benefit other company offices may present poor optics. But then again, given the gross disparity in things like the minimum wage, at some point economics should dictate who gets what and why.  But for some laws – such as the various forms of paid and unpaid leave and protected categories of discrimination – a unified policy is easier to administer than a 50-policy patchwork.

With this executive order, companies will now have to deal with another addition to the hodgepodge collection of rules for worker compensation, begging the question: At what point would it just be simpler to have one standard to abide by?

That answer may not be as clear cut anymore—especially given that while this executive order seems to only apply to employees not independent contractors who work on government contracts, Summer Austin Davis notes on Labor & Employment Insights that the Department of Labor will be watching to make sure that’s enforced properly:

Recall, however, that the U.S. Department of Labor recently declared its belief that thousands of workers are misclassified as independent contractors, so be careful not to rely solely on the labels workers wear to determine whether the Executive Order applies to your business. In any event, according to the White House, the new rule will affect approximately 300,000 workers. Of course, that means the rule will also affect the companies that employ them.

It definitely won’t please the opposition in Congress, but when coupled with other employment law developments, Obama may have just made a huge stride for paid sick leave. Now to see if it sticks.