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Paid Sick Leave Wave Grows Larger… and Is Not Stopping Anytime Soon

In Summer of 2016, we reported on the City of Chicago’s enactment of a paid sick time ordinance. Not to be outdone by their city counterparts, Cook County commissioners passed their own version of a paid sick time law on October 5, 2016. 

This is not an issue that applies only to Chicago-area, or even Illinois, employers. As similar efforts continue across the country, employers nationwide shouldn’t expect any slowdown in this fast-paced march toward broader paid sick time requirements.

The Cook County “Earned Sick Leave” Ordinance 

Largely mirroring Chicago’s ordinance, the Cook County Earned Sick Leave Ordinance mandates that employers in Cook County, Illinois, allow eligible employees to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time in each 12-month period of their employment. The law becomes effective on July 1, 2017, and (subject to some exceptions) applies to all individuals and companies with a place of business within Cook County that employ at least one covered employee. An employee is covered if he or she performs at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present in Cook County in any particular two-week period and works at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period.

Of note, if an employer offers paid time off (PTO) in an amount and manner that meets the requirements of the new law (including allowing for paid time off for the illness or injury of the employee or a covered family member), the employer is not required to provide additional paid leave so long as the PTO policy meets each requirement of the law.

The National Trend Toward Mandatory Paid Sick Time

As evidenced by the pace of change in 2016 alone, the national trend toward mandatory paid sick time is gaining traction. Within the last year, seven cities across the country have enacted such requirements, several states and other localities have put the issue on the November 2016 ballot, and the U.S. Department of Labor recently finalized a paid sick time rule that will apply to federal contractors starting in 2017.  

As of this date of this article, state and/or local versions of paid sick time requirements now exist in the following locations:

  • Connecticut

  • California (in addition local laws in the municipalities of Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Monica)

  • Illinois (Chicago and Cook County only)

  • Maryland (Montgomery County only)

  • Massachusetts

  • Minnesota (the municipalities of Minneapolis and St. Paul only)

  • New Jersey (the municipalities of Bloomfield, East Orange, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Morristown, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, Plainfield, and Trenton only)

  • New York (New York City only)

  • Oregon

  • Pennsylvania (the municipalities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh only)

  • Vermont

  • Washington (the municipalities of Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma only)

  • Washington, DC

There is no reason to expect that this paid sick time movement will slow down any time soon. Between ballot measures, legislative proposals, and active regulators, odds are that we can expect more activity on this issue in 2017 and beyond.

So What’s an Employer to Do?

This patchwork of state and local laws — and their varying rules as to which employers are covered, which employees are eligible, and which paid sick time benefits affected employees are eligible to receive — can make an employer’s head spin. Employers with employees in any of the above locations should consult with legal counsel as to their specific obligations under relevant state and local law. Even employers with generous sick time or PTO policies are advised to review their actual practices, as compared against legal requirements, to ensure that their policies and practices pass muster wherever they operate.

Paid sick time is not the only issue that lurks. As we wrote earlier this year, many employers are adopting or are considering adopting “unlimited” vacation/paid time off (PTO) policies. One of the perceived benefits of these policies is the hoped-for ability to dispense with the ministerial chores associated with tracking employee time off. However, with more and more paid sick time laws being placed on the books (including specific accrual and carry-over requirements in many of these new laws), employers may still be obligated to track time off regardless of whether they have “unlimited” paid time off policies. Employers who think that time off generosity excuses them from complying with the subtle nuances of state and local paid sick time laws may need to reconsider that viewpoint.

© 2019 Much Shelist, P.C.

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People are an employer’s most critical asset. And the employer-employee relationship works best when it is based on clear ground rules and an understanding of mutual obligations. The labor and employment attorneys at Much give employers answers and advice quickly with practical business needs in mind. Our job is to provide counsel proactively, negotiate on your behalf when necessary, and litigate forcefully when the situation warrants. When urgent questions arise regarding issues such as firing an employee in a manner that minimizes risk or handling an unexpected medical leave, we are...

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