On March 15, 2020, the long-awaited Paid Sick Days Act of the City of Pittsburgh will go into effect
After several years of litigation, Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave law will go into effect on March 15, 2020. The Paid Sick Days Act applies to any employer that does business in the city, except for federal and state government employers.
There is no federal requirement that private employers offer paid sick leave, although President Trump recently signed legislation that gives government workers several weeks of paid family leave in exchange for the creation of a new military branch, the Space Force.
The Pittsburgh law is another instance of the growing trend of cities and states requiring that employers provide paid sick time to workers.
No access to paid sick leave
City officials noted in the bill that about 40% of the city’s private sector workers do not have access to paid sick time. Around 77% of the city’s service workers, especially food service workers and healthcare workers, lack access to paid sick time. The restaurant industry is the region’s largest employer, the Pittsburgh City Paper has reported.
Paid sick leave provides a number of benefits, city officials say, including that a lack of paid sick days for those who frequently come into contact with the public increases the likelihood of the transmission of communicable diseases. Research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center shows that access to paid sick leave in Pittsburgh can result in decreased transmission rates for the flu.
Research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center shows that access to paid sick leave in Pittsburgh can result in decreased transmission rates for the flu.
They also observed that paid time off reduces employee turnover and strengthens employee loyalty.
What’s in the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act?
Employees must be provided with at least 1 hour of sick leave for every 35 hours of work within the city.
Employers with 15 or more employees can cap leave at 40 hours a calendar year although the employer is allowed to offer more leave. Employers with fewer than 15 employees can cap leave at 24 hours per calendar year although the employer can offer more leave.
The sick leave law does not apply to:
- Independent contractors
- State and federal employees
- Seasonal employees
- Members of a construction union covered by a collective bargaining agreement
Qualified employees can use the paid sick leave for their own mental or physical illness or preventive medical care, a family member’s illness or medical care and for public health emergencies. Family member is defined broadly under the law and includes legal wards, stepchildren, adoptive and foster children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, spouses, and domestic partners and grandparents.
When can employees begin using sick leave?
Employees may begin using their accrued sick leave on the 90th calendar day of their employment.
An employee must make a verbal request that includes, when possible, the expected length of the absence.
An employer cannot require that a worker search for or find a replacement worker as a condition for taking paid sick leave.
If the sick time lasts for more than 3 days, employers are allowed to require that employees provide “reasonable documentation” that the paid sick time has been used for a purpose covered by the law. Documentation signed by a health care professional indicating that the sick time is necessary is considered reasonable. The precise nature of the illness does not have to be explained.
Sick leave must be paid at the employee’s base rate of pay, except that for the law’s first year. The sick leave is unpaid for employees of employers with less than 15 employees.
Employees can carry over accrued but unused sick leave to the following calendar year, unless the employer decides to make the maximum amount of required sick leave available to employees at the beginning of the calendar year.
Employers can create their own policy on notification regarding how soon before an employee’s shift the employee must make the verbal request to use sick time. However, the policy must be reasonable and not interfere with an employee’s use of sick time. If the employer does not have its own notification policy, an employee need only make a request for sick time at least 1 hour before the start of his or her shift or as soon as possible if the need for sick time is not foreseeable.
Employer notice requirement
Employers have notice requirements under the law. Employers must let employees know that they are entitled to sick time, the amount of sick time, the terms of its use, that each employee has the right to file a complaint with the City Controller’s Office if required sick time is denied or if the employee is retaliated against for requesting or using sick time.
The notice must be posted in an area easily accessible to employees at the job site. Employers who violate the notice requirements are subject to a fine of up to $100 for each offense.
Retaliation and discrimination against employees who take advantage of the law is not allowed. Legally protected activity under the law includes requesting sick leave, using sick leave, filing a complaint, or informing others about their rights under the law.
The law also does not allow employers to count sick time taken under the law as an absence that may lead to discipline, discharge, demotion, suspension or any other adverse action.
Employers are presumed to have engaged in unlawful retaliation if they take adverse action against an employee within 90 days of the employee taking advantage of the paid sick time law.
Penalties and fines
An employer that willfully violates the paid sick time law is subject to a fine of up to $100 for each offense, starting one year after the effective date of the law. In addition, the City Controller’s Office can impose penalties and fines for violations of the law and provide relief, including full restitution to the employee for all lost wages and benefits and reinstatement.
Litigation delayed enactment
The Pittsburgh law was signed by Mayor Bill Peduto in August 2015. However, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and other businesses challenged the measure, arguing that it was not allowed under Pennsylvania’s Home Rule Charter that places limits on local actions that could encumber businesses. The businesses obtained favorable rulings in the trial and commonwealth courts. But Pennsylvania’s top court didn’t agree. The state’s Supreme Court upheld the Paid Sick Days Act, concluding that the city had not exceeded its home rule authority in enacting the law.