Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cook County Hops on the Paid Sick Leave Train

In January of this year, we identified what we thought would be the five hottest labor and employment topics in 2016. The topics included the change in the DOL overtime rules, naturally; transgender rights, obviously; and paid sick leave. Last week the County of Cook joined the City of Chicago and a number of other local governmental bodies in passing an ordinance mandating paid sick leave to employees who work in the County.

Similar to the ordinance mandating sick leave recently enacted by the City of Chicago, employees in Cook County are entitled to accrue up to 40 hours of sick leave each year and carry over up to half of that time into the next year.

Employers that are covered by the ordinance include individuals and companies with a place of business within the County that gainfully employ at least one covered employee. Government entities and Indian tribes are not covered employers under the ordinance.

Workers are entitled to benefits under the Ordinance if they:

1. perform at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present within the geographic boundaries of the County in any particular two-week period; and

2. work at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period.

Interestingly, the ordinance states that compensated time spent traveling in Cook County, including for deliveries and sales calls and for travel related to other business activity taking place in the County, can count toward the two-hour requirement except that certain railroad employees are not covered by the ordinance.  So, a business that is located outside of Cook County, but does business inside of the County and sends its employees into the County, will be covered by the ordinance.

While government entities are exempt under the ordinance, it appears that those entities can also pass their own ordinances exempting employers in their boundaries from coverage under the County ordinance. A number of municipalities in the County have already expressed their intent to take that action although the ordinance does not take effect until July 2017.   

In addition to municipalities opting out of the ordinance’s coverage, a question exists as to the overall legality of the ordinance itself. Apparently prior to adopting the ordinance, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (which serves as the lawyer to the County Board of Commissioners) gave the County Board an opinion that it did not have the authority to enact or enforce the ordinance. 

While employers in the County who already provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave or PTO time to their employees remain unaffected by the ordinance, other employers should stay tuned to see how this ordinance plays out.