United States: Cook County Enacts New Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

Starting in July of 2017, employers in Cook County, Illinois must provide paid sick leave. The Cook County Board passed the ordinance only a few months after the city of Chicago passed a similar measure that will also take effect July 2017.  Consequently, employers in Chicago and Cook County should begin to prepare. 

The Cook County Ordinance is largely modeled after the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance and requires employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Employees are eligible to earn annually up to five full days of paid sick leave, or 40 total hours. Small businesses, those most likely to be adversely affected, can breathe a small sigh of relief, as paid sick leave under the ordinance is capped at 40 hours on an annual basis.

The Ordinance provides that, at the end of the 12-month sick leave accrual period, an employee may carry over half of his or her unused accrued sick leave, up to a maximum of 20 hours. Additionally, if an employer is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), the covered employees are allowed, at the end of the 12-month sick leave accrual period, to carry over up to an additional 40 hours of unused sick leave to use exclusively for FMLA eligible purposes, thereby increasing the total carryover obligation to 60 hours.  If an employee carries over 40 hours of FMLA-related sick leave and uses that leave, he or she is entitled to use no more than an additional 20 hours of accrued sick leave in the same 12 month period, unless the employer sets a higher limit.

To qualify as an eligible employee under the ordinance, the employee must perform at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present in the geographic boundaries of Cook County and also must work at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period. The ordinance seeks a broad inclusion by defining a covered "employer" as any employer who employs at least one covered employee.        

Employers who already provide paid sick leave or "PTO" equal to or in excess of what is required under the ordinance will not be required to provide any additional leave. Furthermore, employers will not be required to "cash in," or pay for unused accrued sick leave upon termination or separation.

Use of paid sick leave is limited to an employee's own illness, injury, or medical care, or for the medical care of certain covered family members. Although, the ordinance expansively defines "Family Member" to include child, legal guardian or ward, spouse under the laws of any state, domestic partner, parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. Finally, employees may be required to provide notice of up to seven days for any foreseeable paid sick leave and as much notice as is practicable for any unforeseeable leave.

To give the ordinance some teeth, the Cook County Board provided a private right of action within the ordinance for an employee denied the right to use or request paid sick leave. Additionally, employers are prohibited from retaliating against any employee merely because that employee exercised their right to take paid sick leave.

Based on the broad inclusive sweep of this ordinance, few employers will be spared from its requirements. Accordingly, employers who operate or employ employees in Cook County should take time to compare their sick leave policy to the requirements of the ordinance to determine if changes are necessary. Additionally, employers are encouraged to educate management on the anti-retaliation provisions to avoid potential legal repercussions.    

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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