Allegheny County recently enacted an ordinance requiring paid sick leave for covered employees (joining the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which already have paid sick leave ordinances on the books).  The ordinance took effect on December 15, and requires certain employees be given 40 hours of annual paid leave for a variety of reasons, including their own illnesses or to provide care when businesses and schools may be closed for public health reasons.  It also has a strict anti-retaliation provision.  We’ve summarized these and other highlights of the new ordinance below.

Covered Employers and Eligible Employees

The ordinance requires employers with 26 or more employees (excluding independent contractors and seasonal employees) to provide paid sick leave.  When determining coverage, all employees must be counted, but only employees who perform work within the geographic boundaries of Allegheny County for at least 35 hours in a 12-month period of time will receive the paid sick leave benefit.

Significantly, the ordinance will not apply to any municipality within Allegheny County, such as the City of Pittsburgh, that has enacted a paid sick time law, so long as the local law is not less stringent than Allegheny County’s new ordinance.

Accrual and Permitted Uses

A covered employee will accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked within Allegheny County, up to an annual accrual and usage cap of 40 hours.  Paid leave began accruing on December 15, 2021.  For new hires, paid leave will begin to accrue on the first day of employment, and employees may use sick leave on the 90th calendar day after their hire date.

The ordinance permits employees to use paid sick leave for the following reasons:

  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment of an employee’s mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, including preventive medical care;
  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment of a family member’s mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, including preventive medical care;
  • Closure of an employee’s place of business or the need to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed because of a public health emergency; or
  • The need to care for a family member when health authorities or a health care provider have determined the family member’s exposure to a communicable disease creates a risk to others, whether or not the family member has contracted the disease.

Notably, the ordinance broadly defines “family member” to include domestic partners, in-laws, parents of domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, and those individuals whom an employee may have previously been given permission by the employer to care for using sick time.

Usage and Carryover

Covered employers must allow all accrued sick time to be carried over, subject to the usage cap of 40 hours, unless the employer provides a lump sum of 40 hours at the beginning of the calendar year.  If the employer provides less than 40 hours at the beginning of the calendar year, the employee may carry over unused sick time provided that the total available time does not exceed 40 hours.

An employer is not required to payout this leave upon separation regardless of the reason for termination.  But, if an employee is rehired within six months, all previously accrued but unused leave must be reinstated for immediate usage – unless the employer paid out all such leave upon termination.

Employers can generally require reasonable advance notice up to 7 days before scheduled leaves (unless such notice is not possible, in which case good faith effort is sufficient).

Retaliation and Recordkeeping

The ordinance strictly prohibits any type of retaliation against an employee who exercises their rights under the law.  The ordinance creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation for adverse employment actions taken within 90 days of using leave.

Similarly, in the event of a dispute relating to an employee’s use or entitlement to paid sick leave, if an employer did not maintain adequate documentation of the hours worked and paid sick time used, the employer is presumed to have violated the ordinance absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

Existing Policies and Notice Requirements

An employer’s existing paid time off policy or collective bargaining agreement may satisfy the ordinance’s requirements if the policy or agreement allows employees to accrue and use leave on terms at least equivalent to the paid leave in the ordinance.  Even so, employers must still provide notice to employees of their paid sick entitlements and other rights under the ordinance.

Next Steps for Employers

While the enforcing agency will not levy any fines or penalties for violations in the first year, employers who may be covered by Allegheny County’s paid sick leave ordinance should review their existing policies and collective bargaining agreements to determine whether they meet the requirements of the ordinance.  Employers also should ensure that Human Resources and management-level employees are aware of the employer’s obligations under the ordinance and provide any necessary training.

For more information, or for assistance with policy drafting and training, please contact any member of the McNees Labor and Employment Group.