New city ordinance mandates protected sick time

A new sick time law that was passed by the City Council back in the spring came into effect on the first of January.

Voted in unanimously by City Council members, the law gives everyone working in Portland the right to take time off work when they are sick. It also protects the right to time off when a worker needs to recover, take care of a family member, prioritize preventative care or address a domestic violence situation.

“The spirit of the new law is pretty simple: Employers must allow all employees who work within the city of Portland to accrue and use up to 40 hours of protected sick time a year,” explained Diana Bartlett, the sick leave specialist at the office of Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

“National data tell us that 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers have no paid sick days from their job. This law will help ensure that more people get the time they need to recover when they get sick or need to care for sick family members,” she said.

“Protected sick time means that employees will no longer risk losing their job if they are unable to work for health-related reasons.”

The law affects all those who are employed within the physical boundaries of the city of Portland for at least 240 hours per calendar year. For every 30 hours worked, employees will accrue one hour of protected sick time, up to a maximum of 40 hours accrued annually.

Protected sick time can be either paid or unpaid, depending on the employer.

“If you work for an employer with six or more employees, your sick time should be paid. If you work for an employer with five or fewer employees, you are guaranteed unpaid, job-protected time,” Bartlett said.

Employers with five or fewer employees may also use a paid time off system and/or paid vacation days, as long as one of these options is available for employees to utilize without notice as part of their guaranteed sick time. However, the new law sets no ceiling. Employers are encouraged to offer more sick time if they are able. Larger employers will be able to afford to give employees more accrued hours and allow more hours to be used per year.

It is the responsibility of the employer to state and publicize a clear policy for the use of sick time, such as when documentation from a medical professional is required. It also falls on the employer to keep track of the accrual and usage of sick days.

Workers who suspect that their employer is not meeting these standards are able to lodge a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

All in all, Bartlett said, response to the ordinance among employers has varied.

“There are certainly employers who are not thrilled with any new regulations, but we have been surprised by the positive response from employers who support the spirit of the law and see the benefit in taking care of their employees in this way.”

While the new law may generate increased expense for some employers in the short term, the office of the commissioner sees the ordinance as improving productivity over the long term.

The informational website for the new sick time ordinance summarizes the benefit of the law: “Employers in turn will have a healthier and more productive workforce due to reduced contagion and turnover.”

For more information, visit