As he heads into the final year of his presidency, and in the face of continued Congressional impasse, President Obama continues to exercise his executive authority to issue directives targeting the federal contractor workforce.

A new executive order requires that federal contractors offer employees up to seven days of paid sick leave.  Eligible employees will earn one hour of paid leave for every thirty hours worked.  The order applies to new federal contracts solicited on or after January 1, 2017.

The order applies to a broad definition of “sick leave” to include leave relating to physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition, as well as obtaining diagnosis, care, or preventive care from a health care provider.  The order extends to employees caring for a sick child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or any other individual related by blood or so close as to be the equivalent of a family relationship.  The order also specifically includes any absence resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, as well as time taken for counseling and legal proceedings related to the same.

Employees may make the request orally or in writing, and must do so at least seven calendar days in advance or, where leave is not foreseeable, as soon as is practicable.  Employers may require certifications from health care providers for three or more consecutive days of sick leave.  Covered employees have the opportunity to carry over sick leave accrued in a prior year to the next; and, employees who are rehired by a covered contractor within one year of a job separation would have the right to have their previous sick time reinstated.

The policy aims to increase efficiency and cost savings in the federal contractor workforce, suggesting that providing access to paid sick leave will improve the health and performance covered employees and bring benefits packages in line with model employers.  It will also help federal contractors to remain competitive in the search for dedicated and talented employees, which in turn will promote efficiency in the federal procurement process.

The order is expected to impact as many as 300,000 federal contractors, and follows President Obama’s recent efforts to move legislation targeting such contractors in the face of Congressional gridlock.  For example, in January of this year pursuant to another executive order , the minimum wage for federal contractor employees was raised to $10.10 per hour, with an automatic annual mechanism to keep the hourly rate in line with the consumer price index going forward.  And last year, he prohibited discrimination by federal contractors against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is therefore incumbent on employers to evaluate their federal contractor status and to ensure their compliance with the evolving obligations placed upon them.

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