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Pittsburgh's Paid Sick Leave Law Suffers Another Legal Defeat, Battle Not Over

By Andrew J. Ruxton / May 19, 2017

In Pennsylvania Rest. & Lodging Ass'n et al v. City of Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth Court ("the Appeals Court") affirmed a lower court ruling that the City acted without authority when it adopted the Paid Sick Days Act ("the Act"), an ordinance mandating paid sick leave for employees of "almost all employers doing business in the City." The Appeals Court invalidated the law.

In August 2015, the City of Pittsburgh enacted the Act, which the City justified as enhancing public health by guaranteeing employees across the City the ability to earn paid sick leave. The Act provided all covered employees with the right to paid sick leave. The Act was immediately challenged. The trial court held that the City did not have the authority to enact the Act and invalidated it. The trial court concluded, pursuant to the Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law ("Home Rule Charter Law"), that the City lacked authorization to enact the Act, as it placed unauthorized duties, responsibilities, and requirements on employers.

On appeal, the Appeals Court noted that the Home Rule Charter Law, states that a "municipality which adopts a home rule charter shall not determine duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers ... except as expressly provided by statutes which are applicable in every part of this Commonwealth or which are applicable to all municipalities or to a class or classes of municipalities." The Appeals Court held that the Act placed impermissible and unsanctioned obligations on employers. Specifically, the Appeals Court stated that, in addition to forcing employers to provide employees with a minimum amount of paid sick leave, the Act imposed the following affirmative duties on employers: it directed the manner of accruing sick leave; it required the employer to carry over the employees' unused paid sick leave to the following calendar year; it permitted employees to use sick leave time for employees and family members; it defined family members to include grandparents and grandchildren and their spouses; and it imposed notice and record-keeping duties.

The Appeals Court also rejected the City's argument that paid sick leave was a public health regulation and was justified as an exception to the Home Rule Charter Law under the Second Class City Code and/or the Disease Prevention and Control Law.  It is likely that the City will appeal the Appeals Court's decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

This case might have an dramatic impact on the recent trend of cities passing laws which require employers to provide employee benefits. For example, the City of Philadelphia recently enacted a paid sick leave ordinance. Employers should contact their employment attorney to discuss:

  • Whether any city ordinance placing duties, responsibilities, or requirements on the employer are invalid under the Home Rule Charter Law?
  • If the employer has already changed its policies to comply with a city ordinance that violates the Home Rule Charter Law, should the employer continue to comply, which may expose it to liability if the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reverses the Appeals Court's decision?
  • If the employer is drafting rules to comply with a city ordinance that may violate the Home Rule Charter Law, should it adopt the policy?

In light of the looming precariousness surrounding paid sick leave issues, Pennsylvania employers should stay apprised of developments regarding the Paid Sick Days Act to maintain legal compliance, while also ensuring that unnecessary polices are not implemented.

If you have any questions about your obligations regarding paid sick leave, contact Andrew Ruxton at (412) 394-2573 | aruxton@clarkhill.com, or another member of Clark Hill's Labor and Employment Practice Group.