As of July 1, 2022, all private sector employees became eligible to receive up to 64 hours of sick time each year.

While many employees feel like,’ Ok, great what’s the big deal,’’ many members of our local community have not had access to this benefit at their workplace. If they had to be out because of illness, they took this time unpaid if their employer did not offer PTO or vacation time.

The Healthy Workplaces Act gives employees the time off they need to take care of their wellness as well as their families.

The act includes a strong retaliation clause that ensures no adverse employment action can be taken when this time is used.

Another great aspect is that the employee is allowed to take this time off without consideration of business needs, which allows the employee to manage their sick time as needed. Before having the HWA in place, if an employee requested time off for a doctor’s appointment or their child was sick, this request could have been denied based on the organization’s business need (no coverage, peak hours, etc.) and possible disciplinary action if the time was taken.

Let’s put this into perspective and look at a scenario before the HWA is enacted. You call in sick because your child has a very high fever and you need to take the day off to care for them. Before the HWA, this could lead to a day without pay and the employer can say since you have called in a couple of times over the last several months for various reasons, I am now going to start disciplinary action.

These scenarios were, unfortunately, fairly common practices and created a negative impact on many of those in the workforce. Imagine not getting paid and written up because your child was ill and you need to stay home to care for them. Insert sad sigh here…ouch.

Today, this same employee has a bank of hours he or she can draw upon, so not only will this time now be paid, there is a provision that allows the employee to take this time without any retaliation including discipline, discharge, demotion, non-promotion, less favorable scheduling, reduction of hours, suspension or any other adverse action.

What a huge positive impact for this employee and family.

They can now take the time they need to care for their family. Overall, when someone is sick, they should say home to help protect their co-workers and their respective families from illness. Having protected times makes it a bit easier to make those decisions.

Here’s the legal information:

  • Starting July 1, 2022, the Healthy Workplaces Act of 2021 requires all private employers, regardless of size, to allow New Mexico employees to accrue and use paid sick leave at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked.
  • The sick time can be used for the employees’ or their qualifying family members’ illness or injury, or to deal with certain legal and family issues.
  • Employers can allow employees MORE sick time, but the legal requirement is up to 64 hours per year if the employee has accrued the leave. Paid sick leave that has been accrued, but not used by an employee, can carry or roll over to the next year, up to a maximum of 64 hours.
  • Employers may not require a doctor’s note unless the employee has missed two or more consecutive days. The compensation for HWA pay cannot be withheld while waiting for this documentation.

Some eligible reasons to use Sick Leave under HWA

  • Illness (physical or mental) for employee and/or employee’s family
  • Doctor’s appointments (ongoing treatment or preventive care) for employee and/or employee’s family
  • Meetings that take place at the school related to a child’s health or disability
  • Absences related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking (includes all related legal proceedings, counseling or related services)

As an employee, this gives great access to time off that may be needed to care for you and your family — knowing that you can take up to 64 hours per year without fear of job loss or possible retaliation.

Hopefully, this gives you a quick snapshot of your rights under this act.

Employers have had over a year to prepare and should have a way to separate the tracking of sick (HWA) time and vacation. Be aware that once the 64 hours have been exhausted, unless you fall into another protected program such as FMLA, you may experience disciplinary actions.

For more information, the Department of Workforce Solutions has a great guide, I used this guide as a reference for the information within this article.