SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – No one wants to be sick at work, but for some New Mexico workers, earning paid sick leave is a challenge. But thanks to a bill passed in 2021, New Mexicans will soon have a right to paid sick leave.

Called the “Healthy Workplaces Act,” the bill was passed during the 2021 legislative session. As of July 1, 2022, the new law will go into effect. State officials in charge of administering the law say it’s ultimately intended to help both employees and employers.

“New Mexico is not alone in recognizing that paid sick leave can benefit employees and employers. 15 other states and almost 150 other countries around the world enacted laws requiring some form of paid sick leave.” Kimberly Souders, the acting director of the Labor Relations Division for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, said in a presentation to employers.

And because paid sick leave can help reduce turnover and keep employees operating at their best, “it really is good for business,” Souders said.

Employee rights

The act requires all private New Mexico businesses to pay earned sick leave to employees. Starting July 1, 2022, this will apply to all businesses, regardless of the size of the business.

New Mexico-based employees are granted this right, as long as they work within the state of New Mexico. That means even if their employer is based in another location, if they’re a New Mexico-based worker, an employee is eligible for paid sick leave.

This applies to full-time, part-time, and even seasonal workers. There are a few exceptions. For example, the law does not apply to employees on tribal land. And independent contractors are not considered employees for the purpose of the new law.

Many private businesses already have time off policies that comply with this new law. So don’t be surprised if you don’t see many changes at your workplace. But for some, this will be a relatively large change in how they receive sick leave.

Minimum earned leave

The new law requires private employers to give employees at least one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked. Employers can give more, but that’s the minimum under the new law. Overtime hours count towards your total hours worked as well.

Under the law, employees are allowed to use their earned hours all at once. Or, they can use their hour’s several pieces at a time.

What can the earned hours be used for?

Because the earned hours are for sick leave, employees can’t simply use them for vacation. Instead, the law lays out a list of permitted uses.

Obviously, the earned leave can be used for medical care. This includes if the employee is seeking treatment for medical issues as well as taking leave to help care for their family members.

Preventative medical care is allowed. As is using the time to attend meetings at a child’s school, if the meeting is related to the child’s health. You can also use the time to deal with issues related to domestic abuse or sexual assault.

If you only use a day worth of sick leave, your employer can’t ask for documentation to prove you used it according to the permitted uses. But if you use more than that at once, you may be required to prove you used the leave for medical purposes.

And it’s worth noting that you don’t have to use other types of leave before using your state-granted sick leave. And state law says it’s not your job to find someone to cover for you if you do use your sick leave — so your boss isn’t allowed to decline your sick leave simply because there’s no one to cover your shift.

What happens if you don’t use the hours?

If you don’t use up your earned sick leave hours before your employment ends, you might lose those hours. After all, the new law does not require employers to pay for unused hours. That applies whether you’re fired, retire, or end your employment under any other circumstance.

If you feel like your employer isn’t letting you take leave

“Retaliation is illegal under the Healthy Workplaces Act, and we take it seriously,” Souders said. “It is against the law.”

“Retaliation” happens when your employer takes an adverse action — such as making a threat or demoting you — for anything that is allowed under the new law. It could even be something as small as giving you a less favorable work schedule after you try to use your sick leave.

But be aware, that state law still allows workplaces to discipline employees based on company policy. “Legitimate discipline is one thing, retaliation is another and it comes with penalties under the law,” Souders said.

The state’s Labor Relations Division is tasked with investigating complaints from employees.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this story was sourced primarily from New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. This is not an exhaustive list of the law’s exceptions, nor is it legal advice.