The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (the Court) recently struck down the hotly contested Pittsburgh Paid Sick Leave Ordinance — bestowing a generous holiday gift on the thousands of Pittsburgh (City) employers that otherwise would have been forced to start providing paid sick leave to their workers in 2016.

Background 

As passed by the City Counsel and signed into law by Mayor Bill Peduto earlier this year, the Ordinance required all private City employers to pay their covered employees for at least one hour of sick leave for each 35 hours worked. On an annual, per-employee basis, this would have meant up to 40 hours sick leave paid by entities with 15 or more employees, and up to 24 hours of such leave by those with fewer than 15 employees.

The Ordinance sparked widespread and vigorous opposition from the business community, both before and after enactment. This opposition culminated in litigation, with five City businesses and the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (together, the Businesses) filing a lawsuit against the City in September. The suit challenged the City’s authority to enact the Ordinance and sought both (1) a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Ordinance, and (2) a final order declaring the Ordinance to be null and void.

The suit accomplished its first goal in October 2015 — when the City agreed to a 60-day extension of the Ordinance effective date (moving it from January 11, 2016 to March 10, 2016) — and its second goal on December 21, 2015 — when the Court issued a Declaratory Judgment denouncing the Ordinance as “invalid and unenforceable.”

The Court’s Decision

As explained in a five-page Opinion, the Court based its decision on the City’s status as “a home rule charter municipality created pursuant to the Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law [the Charter Law].” Section 2962(f) of the Charter Law, titled “Regulation of Business and Employment,” provides that such a municipality

shall not determine duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers … except as expressly provided by [a Pennsylvania state] statute[].

(Emphasis added.) Based on this language, the Court reasoned the Ordinance is void because no state statute existed expressly permitting the City to enact it.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the City’s argument that the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law (DPCL) supplied the requisite statutory authority for purposes of the Charter Law. The Court held that the DPCL expressly applied only to municipalities that had “boards or departments of health.” As Pittsburgh had neither, the Court reasoned, the City was “not empowered to enact the [O]rdinance or issue [any other] rules [or] regulations relating to disease prevention and control.”

The Court also rejected the City’s reliance on the Second Class City Code, ruling that the Code did not apply to Pittsburgh because it had adopted a home rule charter. In support for this ruling, the Court relied on a 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that addressed a similar issue and concluded that Pittsburgh had exceeded its authority under the Charter Law when passing a “Protection of Displaced Contract Workers Ordinance.”

What to Expect Going Forward

The Court’s decision may not be the last we will hear on the topic of paid sick leave in the Commonwealth. The Pittsburgh mayor’s office has announced that it intends to explore its “legal options,” which could include an appeal of the Court’s decision, or further lobbying efforts in Harrisburg. The Pittsburgh debate could also spill over to Philadelphia, which passed a similar paid sick leave law earlier in 2015, as part of the much larger national trend among states and cities that have enacted laws on this subject recently. We will keep you abreast of further developments in the coming months regarding this “hot topic” in employment law.