Bernalillo County OKs paid time off ordinance for the unincorporated area

Taking effect July 2020, the Bernalillo County Commission passed a paid time off ordinance which applies to unincorporated areas of the county.

One business owner in the East Mountains says that will put them at an unfair disadvantage with surrounding areas like Albuquerque, Santa Fe County or Torrance County, which do not have the same requirement.

The ordinance passed on a 3 to 2 vote, with commissioners Lonnie Talbert and Charlene Pyskoty, whose district includes the East Mountains, voting against it.

The ordinance requires employers—which it defines as “any person, estate, business trust, association, receiver, cooperative association, club, corporation, non-profit corporation, company, firm, partnership, joint venture, syndicate, legal representative, or other entity or group of persons” with a business registration from Bernalillo County and which is located in the unincorporated area—with at least two employees to provide the benefit.

It also requires new businesses who want to locate in the unincorporated area of the County to comply, giving them a year to implement the policy.

The ordinance means that employees, after 90 days with a business, will accrue an hour of paid time off for every 32 hours worked.

The ordinance limits the number of hours an employee can accrue, starting with a maximum of 24 hours a year in 2020, rising to 40 hours a year in 2021 and at 56 hours a year in 2022.

If an employee has already been at a business for more than 90 days, the ordinance goes into effect immediately after July 1, 2020.

Certain employees exempt from overtime requirements under federal or state law will be assumed to work 40 hours a week for accrual purposes.

Employees will be able to carry over paid time off from one year to the next.

“An employer shall permit an employee to use the earned paid time off accrued for any use,” the ordinance says.

“I’m wondering who’s going to be working in December,” said Rita Liebling, who owns the Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest, with 35 employees. “Everything is becoming so restrictive and so regulated, I think it’s a hostile business environment anyway. This doesn’t help. I was glad that our county commissioner, who is actually in favor of this, voted against it. I don’t understand why it is even legal to pretty much target two places in the county. It’s very frustrating and disheartening.”

The unincorporated areas of the county are the East Mountains and the South Valley of Albuquerque.

It goes on to say, “An employer shall provide paid time off upon the request of an employee or a family member, caretaker, or medical professional acting on the employee’s behalf.”

The employer will be responsible for instructing employees in the manner such requests shall be made, “whether it may be made orally, in writing, by electronic means, or by any other means acceptable to the employer. When possible, the request shall include the expected duration of the absence,” it says.

“The commission worked hard to balance the concerns of employers while recognizing that workers sometimes need to take time from work to care for themselves, a child, or a loved one,” said commission chair Maggie Hart Stebbins, according to a press release.

Employers are required to “accurately track and record the amount of earned paid time off accrued or used by each employee for each pay period in any format the employer chooses, keep such records for the time period required for employment and payroll records … and make such records available to the County upon request.” Failure to do so is a violation of the ordinance, which could result in a fine up to $500 for the business.

The ordinance also says the county may review records regarding all employees at the employer’s worksite.

If a business does not produce these records within 45 days of a request to review them by the county, the county may suspend the employer’s business registration. Business registration would be restored upon compliance with the notice of inspection, the ordinance says.

“For paperwork you’re going to close down the business and 35 people are out of work? What if something happened and I can’t get that paperwork?” Liebling said. “I really don’t know how to administer any of it. … I’m going to have to figure that out.”

After 180 days, if an employer has not complied with the ordinance, it allows for a civil action against the employer.

Penalties, payable to the county, are $50 per week for each separate violation, with a maximum of $500 fine per violation.

Pyskoty had offered an amendment to the ordinance, that would have created a tiered system of accrual, that would have based the hours of time off of the number of employees at a business; that amendment was voted down.

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