On October 5, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved the Cook County Employer Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees, to take effect on July 1, 2017. This Ordinance follows in the wake of the City of Chicago approving a similar paid sick leave ordinance in late June that is also to come into effect in July of 2017, as addressed in E. Jason Tremblay’s June 29 blog post, “Paid Sick Leave is Coming to Chicago.”

Paid Sick Leave Under the Ordinance

The Ordinance applies to any employer that has at least one covered employee and has its principal place of business within Cook County. The Ordinance only covers employees who work at least 80 hours within any 120-day period and work at least 2 hours in any 2-week period within the geographic boundaries of Cook County.

Covered employers are required to offer 1 hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. Eligible employees can accrue up to 5 paid sick days each year, unless their employer sets a higher limit. Earned sick leave will begin to accrue either on the first calendar day after an employee’s employment or on the effective date of the Ordinance, whichever comes later.

If a covered employee has not used up all of his or her accrued sick leave by the end of the 12-month period, then they can carry over up to 20 hours of unused accrued sick leave. For larger employers covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, employees are allowed to carry 5 days (40 hours) of unused paid leave into the next year.

However, if an employer has a policy that grants employees paid time off in a manner meeting requirements for earned sick leave under the Ordinance, then the employer is not required to provide additional paid leave. If the employer’s policy immediately awards paid time off instead of using an accrual model, then the employer has to award 40 hours of paid time off within 1 calendar year of the employee’s date of eligibility.

Use of Sick Leave

Pursuant to the Ordinance, employers can prohibit employees from beginning to use earned sick leave until 180 days after their earned sick leave begins to accrue. Employers also have the right to obligate employees to use sick leave in reasonable increments of 4 hours or less per day. However, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to find a replacement worker to cover the hours during which they are on paid sick leave.

Employees can use sick leave for the following reasons: (1) the employee is ill or injured, or is receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis or preventative medical care; (2) the employee’s family member is ill or injured, or the employee needs to care for a family member receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis or preventative medical care; (3) the employee or his or her family member is a victim of domestic violence or is the victim of sexual violence or stalking; or (4) a public official closes the employee’s place of business because of a public health emergency, or the employee needs to care for a child after a public official has closed the child’s school or place of care because of a public health emergency. The Ordinance’s broad definition of “family members” includes, but is not limited to, immediate family, parents-in-law, grandchildren, grandparents, step-family, and adopted or fostered children.

If an employee’s need to use earned sick leave is reasonably foreseeable (such as for prescheduled appointments), an employer may require up to 7 days’ notice before leave is taken. If it is not reasonably foreseeable, then the employer may require an employee to give notice as soon as is practicable on the day the employee needs to take sick leave. This requirement is waived if the employee cannot give notice because he or she is unconscious or otherwise medically incapacitated. If an employee is absent for more than 3 consecutive days at work, the employee may require documentation certifying that the employee’s use of earned sick leave was authorized.

The Ordinance’s Impact on Employers

All covered employers – those who currently provide sick leave or who will be required to under the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance and/or Cook County Paid Sick Leave Ordinance – should update their employee handbooks and/or leave policies to address the Ordinance’s requirements and should post and provide notice to employees of their rights under the Ordinance.

Additionally, employers should be aware that they are prohibited from retaliating or taking any other adverse actions against employees who exercise their rights, or attempt to do so, under the Ordinance. Aggrieved employees may seek recourse in state court for damages up to three times the unpaid or denied sick time plus interest for violations of the Ordinance