Are New Sick Leave Rules Coming to Your Area?

Some municipalities are taking another look at sick-leave policies and paid time off, and are requiring employers to be more generous with such benefits than what has been historically offered. This is what Chicago and Cook County are doing — and this just might be the beginning of a trend.

The intention of the ordinance — to let workers earn five paid sick days per year — is straightforward. The old saw “The devil is in the details” is where the headaches come in. Be ready if your area likes what it sees, because other cities and counties may soon alter their policies.

First — what’s happening in Chicago and Cook County? And how can that affect you even if you say, “Hey, I do business in Wyoming”?

  • Is your business subject to any city of Chicago licensing agreement? Then Chicago Paid-Sick-Leave Ordinances (PSLOs) apply.
  • If you have even one employee who works from a location in Cook County — even if it’s his/her home that is in Cook County — the PSLO probably applies.

Requiring that nearly all employees — part-time, seasonal and temporary — can accrue an hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked is the main gist of the new ordinance. Employers can cap the total sick time earned in no less than 40 hours, or five days, a year.

Employers must allow workers to carry unused sick time over to the next year, which is not part of many owners’ current policies. This may get complicated, particularly in considering whether the employer and worker are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for a newborn or to attend to a personal or family member’s serious illness.

Consider this: Even if you have no physical offices or facilities in the jurisdiction of Chicago or Cook County now, you may want to be sure whether the PSLOs apply in any way in these municipalities — or listen to the groundswell to see whether your area is thinking of change in this respect. Here are some other fine points regarding what is out there now:

  • You may have discovered that your municipality has opted out of the ordinance, but don’t be too cocky. If one of your employees goes to a location where it does apply, your business must comply — at least where that employee is concerned.
  • Opt-out areas may not be able to opt out forever. A lawsuit is threatening to stop opt-outs so that PSLO would be in force retroactively.
  • You may be haughtily saying to yourself, “My sick-leave policy is more generous than even PSLOs require — I don’t need to make any changes.” But hold on: There’s a little matter of at least 40 hours of accrual per year. Does your policy have any sort of use-it-or-lose-it component at year-end? What about requiring a doctor’s note if an employee is sick for three days or more? Do you have a specific procedure for calling in sick? If you can answer yes to any of these, then your current policy may indeed violate the PSLO.
  • You may be scoffing because you have an unlimited paid-time-off policy — so you’re thinking, “My firm is already in compliance.” Well, you have to be fully compliant, and there may be some little niggly thing that isn’t. Forewarned is forearmed.

The basic intention of making sure that workers who didn’t get any paid sick leave before have access to it now is reasonable. Making sure your company is in compliance may not be as straightforward. Of course, this is just a basic summary of a complex series of regulations, but the two takeaways here are (1) this ordinance can affect even companies with only a tenuous connection to Chicago and Cook County, and (2) something like this may come next to your state or municipality.