If Pain, Yes Gain—Part 70: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orders Steel City to Lift Sick Leave Barrier

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Seyfarth Synopsis: On Wednesday, July 17, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed trial and appellate court rulings that found the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Actfirst enacted in August 2015in violation of state law. For the first time since 2015, Pittsburgh is bracing itself for the impact of the sick leave bug.

At the time of the 30th edition of our “If Pain, Yes Gain” series, the Pittsburgh paid sick leave (“PSL”) mandate was on life support. Earlier this week, the mandate was resuscitated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (the “Court”). Sending shock waves through the PSL community, on July 17, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the December 2015 trial court and the May 2017 appellate courtdecisions, which had found the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act (“PSDA”) to be in violation of the state Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law (“Home Rule Law”). Notably, however, the decision does not appear to address when the PSDA binds Pittsburgh employers and actually takes effect, although guidance from the city is expected in the near future.

The PSDA was enacted in August 2015 and originally scheduled to go into effect on January 11, 2016. But for the lower court decisions, the PSDA would have been—and now likely will be—the second local PSL ordinance in effect in Pennsylvania. As we previously noted, the PSDA provides more employee-friendly sick leave benefits than does Philadelphia’s PSL ordinance.[1]

Despite a lengthy opinion providing extensive historical, factual, and legal background, simply put, the Court ruled that the PSDA does not violate the Home Rule Law because Pittsburgh has “express statutory authority to legislate in furtherance of disease control and prevention.” Accordingly, the Court reversed the lower courts’ PSDA rulings and remanded for proceedings consistent with its decision.

As of now, assuming all remains the same,[2] once effective, the PSDA will require employers with 15 or more employees to provide each eligible employee with one hour of PSL for every 35 hours the employee works in Pittsburgh, up to 40 hours of PSL per year. Employers with fewer than 15 employees will be required to provide their employees with one hour of unpaid sick leave for every 35 hours worked in Pittsburgh, up to 24 hours per year. After the law’s first anniversary, employers with fewer than 15 employees will be required to provide paid sick leave at the same accrual rate and up to the same 24-hour cap as set forth during the Act’s inaugural year.

We will continue to monitor and provide updates on what comes next for the PSDA and Pittsburgh employers. In the meantime, here are some steps to consider:

  • Review existing sick leave or paid time off policies in preparation for implementing new policies or revising existing policies to satisfy the PSDA;
  • Review policies on attendance, anti-retaliation, conduct, and discipline for compliance with the PSDA;
  • Be on the lookout for further information on the PSDA including a PSL website and release of regulations, model notices, and other administrative guidance; and
  • Monitor lower court proceedings and legislative developments involving the PSDA.

 

[1] For more information on the PSDA as passed, see our prior alerts here and here. For information on Philadelphia’s PSL ordinance, see our prior alert here.

[2] On February 1, 2019, HB 331 was introduced in the state House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Labor and Industry, where it has since remained. Titled “An Act Amending Title 53 . . . Of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in preemptions, providing for employer mandates by municipalities,” HB 331 would likely invalidate the PSDA, as well as the Philadelphia PSL ordinance, as it would preempt local ordinances regulating paid or unpaid employee leave enacted from January 1, 2015 on.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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