Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Days Act Is Now on Course to Take Effect
The City of Pittsburgh’s “Paid Sick Days Act” (Title VI, Article VII, Section 626) requires employers to provide paid sick time to both full-time and part-time employees. The Ordinance is intended to improve public health by ensuring that employees can use the accrued time when they (or their family members) are sick.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a 2015 City of Pittsburgh ordinance that requires employers to provide paid sick leave to workers. The ordinance was disputed by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and several Pittsburgh businesses that claimed that the city lacked the authority to require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
On July 17, 2019, after lower courts had previously found the law invalid, the highest court in Pennsylvania decided that the City was within its authority in passing the ordinance. As a result, absent other legal or legislative changes, the Paid Sick Days Act will soon go into effect for Pittsburgh employers.
Covered Employer and Employee
Employees – The Act applies to all full- and part-time employees working within the geographic boundaries of the city. Seasonal employees (defined as those who are notified in writing upon hire that they will work no more than 16 weeks in a calendar year) and independent contractors are excluded from the Act’s coverage.
Employers – A person, partnership, limited partnership, association, or unincorporated or otherwise, corporation, institution, trust, government body or unit or agency, or any other entity situated or doing business in the City and that employs one or more persons for a salary, wage, commission or other compensation. “Employer” does not include either of the following:
- The United States Government; and
- The State of Pennsylvania including any office, department, agency, authority, institution, association or other bodies of the state, including the legislature and the judiciary.
Accrual of Sick Time
- The Act provides that employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked in Pittsburgh. Exempt employees are presumed to work 40 hours in each workweek for sick-time accrual unless their normal workweek is less than 40 hours, in which case sick time accrues based on the normal workweek.
- If an employer has 15 or more employees: Employees are entitled to accrue up to 40 hours (e.g., 5 days) of paid sick time per the calendar year.
- If an employer has fewer than 15 employees: Employees are entitled to accrue up to 24 hours (e.g., 3 days) of unpaid sick time for the first calendar year after the Act’s effective date. After this period, these employees are entitled to accrue up to 24 hours (e.g., three days) of paid sick time per the calendar year.
- The definition of a calendar year can be set by the employer, so long as it is a regular 12-month period and the period is communicated to employees. Employers can allow employees to accrue paid sick time at more generous rates than the established statutory minimums.
- The accrual of sick time, as provided in this Ordinance, shall begin on the effective date of this Ordinance, as to an employee who is employed as of such effective date. All employees who become employed after such effective date shall begin to accrue paid sick time at the commencement of their employment.
- All employees shall be entitled to use accrued sick time beginning on the 90th calendar day following the commencement of their employment.
- An employer is not obligated to provide financial or other reimbursements to an employee upon the employee’s termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment for the unused sick time that has been accrued.
Carry Forward of Unused Leave
Employees must be allowed to roll over accumulated, unused sick time from year to year. As an alternative to rollover of accrued, but unused paid sick time, an employer may carry forward the accrual amount to the beginning of the calendar year. In other words, an employer with more than 15 employees may grant employees the full 40 hours of paid sick time at the start of the calendar year rather than waiting for it to accrue. In either case, an employer need not provide an employee with more than the statutorily required paid sick time (e.g., 40 or 24 hours) in a calendar year.
Notably, if an employer has a paid leave policy, such as a paid-time-off policy, that is more generous than the Act’s requirements, it need not offer additional paid time off if the paid time provided for in the employer’s policy can be used for the same purposes and under the same circumstances as sick time provided for in the Act. Additionally, the Act provides that employers need not pay employees for accrued, unused sick time at the end of employment, a point employers may want to clarify in their policies.
If an employee is transferred to a separate division, entity or location, but remains employed by the same employer, the employee is entitled to all sick time accrued at the prior division, entity or location and is entitled to use all sick time as provided.
Use of Sick Time
The sick time accrued by an employee may be used for:
- An employee’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; an employee’s need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; an employee’s need for preventive medical care;
- Care of a family member with a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; care of a family member who needs medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; care of a family member who needs preventive medical care; or
- Closure of the employee’s place of business by order of a public official due to a public health emergency or an employee’s need to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed by order of a public official due to a public health emergency, or care for a family member when it has been determined by the health authorities having jurisdiction or by a health care provider that the family member’s presence in the community would jeopardize the health of others because of the family member’s exposure to a communicable disease, whether or not the family member has actually contracted the communicable disease.
Employees may use accrued sick time after they have been employed for 90 days. Employees can use paid sick time in one-hour increments or the smallest increment the employer uses for other absences. Sick-time pay is to be commensurate with the employee’s rate of pay and with the same benefits, including health-care benefits, that the employee would have earned at the time of the use of paid sick time.
The Act broadly defines covered family members to include grandchildren, domestic partners, foster children, children of a domestic partner, and any individual for whom an employee has received oral permission from the employer to care for.
Employers must notify employees of the rights provided to them under the Act, including their right to sick time, the amount of sick time available to them, and the terms surrounding permissible sick-time use. Employees must also be notified of their right to be free from retaliation for requesting sick time, taking sick leave, or filing a complaint with the City. For a period of at least two years, employers must retain records showing hours worked by employees and sick time taken by employees. These records are subject to review by the Pittsburgh’s Office of the City Controller.
Paid sick time must be provided upon an employee’s oral request. When making a request, the employee must provide the anticipated duration of the absence, if possible. Employers may establish reasonable policies relating to the timing and circumstances of employees’ requests for use of sick time.
Employers may not retaliate against or interfere with employees exercising their rights under this Ordinance. Examples include denying the use of sick time, firing for using sick time, reducing work hours or giving undesirable assignments. Employees have the right to file a complaint with the Controller’s office, which must be filed within 6 months of the violation.
Replicon will continue to provide updates regarding Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Days Act as they become available.