Progress for city’s “illegal” sick-leave plan

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One north-eastern city council is pushing ahead with its controversial paid sick-leave plan, despite opposition from local employers who are increasingly questioning the mandate’s legality.

An unpopular plan

Earlier this year, Pittsburgh City Council passed a paid sick leave ordinance that will require employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.

The mandate will also force employers with less than 15 employees to provide up to 24 hours of unpaid sick time for the first year and up to 24 hours of paid leave after that.

The ordinance states that the law will be effective 90 days from the date regulations and the required notices are issued – those posters have now been distributed and the effective date has been set at January 11th.

Employer opposition

“Before the law even had an effective date, several business groups filed a lawsuit challenging the council's power to enact the ordinance,” reveals labour and employment lawyer Christina Stoneburner.

“The legal challenge is premised on the fact that Pittsburgh is established pursuant to a home rule charter,” explains the Fox Rothschild partner. “The groups allege that there is a home rule law that prohibits cities formed under home rule charters from passing laws related to employment.”

According to Stoneburner, the business groups suing Pittsburgh City Council have stated that they plan to seek an injunction prohibiting the law from going ahead.

Illegal ordinance

The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association is among the organizations challenging the legality of law – President and CEO John Longstreet insists the plans will violate state law if they go ahead.

“The city of Pittsburgh is governed by the Municipalities Act, which states that a municipality ‘shall not determine duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers,’” he explains.

“Key players in Pittsburgh’s paid leave legislation were well aware their proposal was likely against the law, but they had ‘promised’ they would pass mandated paid leave,” he told The Post-Gazette. “The rationale: Even if the courts strike it down, they could at least tell advocates they kept their promise.”

According to Longstreet, the main problem is not the law itself but what it could potentially ignite if it did come to pass.

“If there wasn’t a state law specifically forbidding Pittsburgh from regulating private businesses’ duties to their employees, there would be no problem with this law,” he insisted.

“However, there is such a law and city council has chosen to violate it. What would stop council from continuing to pass legislation in violation of state law if this isn’t stopped now? Nothing.”


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