United States: High Court Upholds City Of Pittsburgh's Paid Sick Days Act Ordinance

Last Updated: September 4 2019
Article by Curtis Schaffner

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania just revived the Paid Sick Days Act (PSDA), a 2015 ordinance that required businesses to provide paid sick leave to any worker located within the geographical boundaries of the City of Pittsburgh. The high court’s ruling comes more than two years after a lower court struck down the PSDA as exceeding the City’s authority under state law.

The dispute centered on whether the PSDA was an ordinance principally focused on regulating businesses within its boundaries (which would exceed the City’s municipal authority), or whether the PSDA was principally focused on regulating the health and safety of its residences (which would fall within the City’s traditional police powers).

The Court concluded that, while requiring employers to provide paid sick leave undoubtedly burdens businesses, its primary affect is to discourage employees from reporting to the workplace while ill, thus preventing the spread of contagion and disease. Consequently, the majority determined that the principal focus of the PSDA was on regulating health and safety and, therefore, upheld the PSDA.

While the Court’s decision resolved a nearly four year battle over the validity of the PSDA, businesses are left with many unanswered questions, the first of which is when they must comply. The Court did not address this issue, nor is there currently any deadline information on the City’s webpage. However, the ordinance was initially set to become effective November 1, 2016, so it could very well become effective as soon as the lower court lifts the injunction that has been barring application of the PSDA. We will publish an update once more information is made available.

In the meantime, any business with an employee who works within the geographic boundaries of the City of Pittsburgh should begin preparing to comply with the PSDA. While a more exhaustive discussion of the PSDA requirements can be found here, it is important to remember the following key provisions:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked, up to a maximum accrued amount of 40 hours. Accrued sick leave must carry over from year-to-year, unless the full amount of sick leave is granted to employees at the beginning of each calendar year.
  • Employers with less than 15 employees must comply with the same obligations set forth above, except that the maximum hours that can be accrued and carried over is 24, and during the first year the PSDA is in effect, the hours can be unpaid (although it is unclear at this point whether employers can still rely upon this unpaid first year option).
  • The requirements for paid sick leave apply to both full-time and part-time employees.
  • Employers must provide written notice of the PSDA requirements to their employees and post an agency approved notice poster, the original version of which can be found here.
  •  Employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the PSDA. Employers can be fined up to $100 for each violation of the PSDA starting one year after its effective date (which is unclear at this point in time). In addition, the City can seek full restitution for employees who suffer lost wages and benefits, as well as reinstatement.

Importantly, employers need not adopt a separate sick day policy if their current paid time off policy complies with the PSDA. However, to comply with the PSDA, the paid time off policy must:

  • Apply to both part-time and full-time employees who work in the City,
  • Provide the employees with no less than the number of paid days off required under the PSDA, earned at no less than the same rate, and
  • Permit employee to use the time off in the same manner as under the PSDA.

If not, then the employer must amend its current policy to incorporate the PSDA requirements, or adopt a separate PSDA policy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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