Obama orders sick leave for federal contractors

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President Barack Obama took advantage of a Labor Day address to union members in Boston to announce a new executive order requiring federal contractors to give employees access to paid sick leave.

The order requires federal agencies to provide for employees who work on federal contracts to accrue one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked. The rule will apply to both prime contractors and subcontractors; employers are not permitted to cap total sick time accrued at less then 56 hours, or seven working days.

"This will give about 300,000 working Americans access to paid sick leave for the first time," Obama said.

Contract employees can use the new leave for physical or mental illness, doctor visits, and to care for dependents and others. Additionally, the order provides for victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault to take time off to obtain counseling, relocate, obtain victim services, or participate in criminal prosecution of offenders. Individuals taking leave cannot be required to arrange for their own replacements. Contractors covered by the order are not, however, required to pay out accrued sick leave in cash to departing employees.

"Mandatory paid leave is a great benefit for workers whose employers offer it," said Jack Mozlom, media director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. "For workers whose employers can't absorb the cost, it's an arbitrary expense that will ultimately result in shorter hours, lower pay or disappearing jobs."

The Labor Day action is the thirteenth time Obama has used his executive power to expand benefits for the contractor workforce. So far, Obama has upped the minimum wage for workers on federal contracts to $10.10, banned contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation, and established protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees at federal contractors.

Obama acknowledged in his speech that he would like to see such benefits throughout the labor force, but can act unilaterally only when it comes to regulations governing federal contractors. "Now, unfortunately, only Congress has the power to give this security to all Americans," he said. "But where I can act, I will."

The contractor community is not apt to be pleased with the order. In August, four trade associations, including the Professional Services Council and the IT Alliance for the Public Sector, complained about the cost of complying with these rules and asked for a break. The White House, apparently, didn’t get the memo.

"Once again, despite our strong admonition that this never-ending spate of executive orders is adding substantial costs to the government and contractors alike, often with little or no actual benefit, the White House has gone forward with yet another contractor-unique executive order that is really a proxy for its broader policy objectives," PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway told FCW in an e-mailed statement. "The EO process has become a far too convenient and frequent, but often counter-productive and ineffective, tool to achieve those broader objectives," he said.

The regulations will take time to be written and put in place, and won't have much if any impact on contracting during the remainder of the Obama presidency. There will be a comment period as the rules wend their way through the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council. The order requires the secretary of Labor to finalize the rules by Sept. 30, 2016, and specifies that agency contracts entered into after Jan. 1, 2017, will include provisions for employee paid sick leave.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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