United States: Chicago Employers Must Grant Paid Sick Time: FAQ

The Chicago City Council today voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that will require every non-construction employer to provide its employees who work in the city with 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Chicago thus joins more than a dozen other states and cities around the country, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, the District of Columbia, and several cities in New Jersey, in requiring employers to grant employees paid sick days. The ordinance will go into effect July 1, 2017.

The following describes key provisions of the ordinance:

Which employers are covered?

  • Every employer that employs anyone in Chicago, except for employers in the construction industry.

Which employees will be eligible?

  • Every Chicago employee of a covered employer who works at least 80 hours in any 120-day period.

How will eligible employees accrue paid sick time?

  • Employees will begin accruing paid sick time when they start employment.
  • Unless the employer sets a higher rate of accrual, employees will accrue paid sick time at the rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum accrual of 40 hours of paid sick time in a 12-month period, starting on the date that the employee began to accrue.
  • Paid sick time will accrue in units of an hour, not fractions of an hour.
  • Exempt employees will be treated as having a 40-hour workweek unless the employer can show that the normal workweek is shorter than that.

When will employees be able to use accrued paid sick time?

  • Only after they have been employed for 180 days. That means some short-term or temporary employees may never get to use their accrued paid sick time.

For what reasons will an eligible employee be able to use paid sick time?

  • When the employee is ill or injured;
  • When the employee needs medical care (whether diagnostic, preventive, or for treatment);
  • When a family member of the employee is ill or injured ("family member" means the employee's child, legal guardian or ward, spouse, domestic partner, parent, spouse or domestic partner's parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or "any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship");
  • When the employee is needed to care for a family member who is receiving medical care (whether diagnostic, preventive, or for treatment);
  • When the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence or a sex offense; or
  • When the employer's place of business is closed because of public health emergency.

What notice will an employer be allowed to require from an employee?

  • If an employee's use of paid sick time is reasonably foreseeable, such as for a planned medical appointment or for a court hearing in a domestic violence case, the employer may require up to one week of advance notice. The employer cannot require the employee to arrange for coverage by a co-worker.
  • If an employee's use of paid sick time is not reasonably foreseeable, the employer may require that the employee give as much notice as is practicable on the day the employee is absent, with such notice by phone, email, or text message, unless the employee is unconscious or medically incapacitated.

Will an employer be able to require proof that an employee was using paid sick time for a reason covered by the ordinance?

  • If an employee is absent for three consecutive work days, the employer may require proof that the absence was legitimate, such as a note from a doctor; but unless required by law, the employer cannot require that note to identify the illness, injury, or medical condition of the employee or family member.
  • If an employee is absent for reasons related to domestic violence or a sex offense, the employer may require that the employee provide a police report, court document, or a written statement from an attorney, a member of the clergy, the employee, "or any other person who has knowledge of the circumstances," with the employee having the right to choose which such document to provide; and the employer cannot delay the employee's use of paid sick leave pending receipt of the document.

What needs to be paid?

  • The employee's regular pay for the time taken, including any benefits.
  • Tipped employees must be paid no less than the Chicago minimum wage for every hour of paid sick time. Effective July 1, 2016, that minimum wage will be $10.50 per hour.

What amount of accrued but unused paid sick time can employees carry over into the next 12-month period?

  • Employees may carry over half of any accrued but unused paid sick time into the following year, but no more than 20 hours.
  • If the employer is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), then employees may also carry over up to 40 hours of accrued but unused paid sick time to use for FMLA leaves.

Will an employer be required to pay an employee for earned but unused paid sick time when his or her employment ends?

  • No, unless doing so is required by a collective bargaining agreement.

May an employer consider paid sick time used by an employee in taking adverse action against the employee, such as for excessive absenteeism?

  • No.

Will employers and unions be required to change their collective bargaining agreements?

  • No. Such agreements will continue to apply as written, and employers and unions may choose not to follow the ordinance in their new agreements.

What else will covered employers need to do when the ordinance takes effect next year?

  • After the ordinance applies, give each employee a notice with his or her first paycheck that informs the employee of his or her right to paid sick leave under the ordinance.
  • Post a notice in the workplace informing employees of their right to paid sick leave under the ordinance.
  • The city will provide language for the notices and posters.

May employees sue for violations? What damages are available?

  • Employees may sue for violations.
  • If the court finds that the employer violated the ordinance, the court will award the employee three times the value of the amount of paid sick time that was denied, interest on that amount from the date that the paid sick time should have been provided, costs, and attorneys' fees.

What should employers do?

  • Begin planning how to implement the requirements of the ordinance, including creating or changing policies and practices on paid sick time, paid time off, and FMLA leave, and how to create and maintain records to track employees' accrual and use of paid sick time.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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