Yesterday Chicago became poised to join a growing group of U.S. cities to mandate paid sick leave for employees when a Chicago City Council committee passed a bill that would provide employees with at least 40 hours per year of paid sick leave. With 38 cosponsors (out of a total of 50 aldermen) and the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the so-called Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (Ordinance), which amends the Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance, is almost certain to become law.

Under the Ordinance, employers must allow employees to accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year (unless the employer chooses to set a higher limit). The accrual begins from the employee's first day of work or from the Ordinance's effective date of July 1, 2017, whichever is later. The Ordinance applies to all employers that employ at least one part-time or full-time employee within the city limits and that maintain a business within the city limits or are subject to city licensing requirements. Only construction industry employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement are exempted from the Ordinance.

Employees must be allowed to use paid sick leave no later than 180 days after starting employment, and may use it in the following circumstances:

  • For illness or injury of the employee or the employee’s family member, including receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis, or preventive medical care;
  • Where the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence or a sex offense; or
  • When the employee’s place of business is closed due to a public health emergency, or the employee needs to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to a public health emergency.

Absences taken pursuant to the Ordinance may not be counted under an employer’s absence control policy as an absence that triggers discipline, discharge, demotion, or any other adverse action against the employee.

Employees must be allowed to carry over half of their accrued, unused paid sick leave to the following accrual year. If the employer is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however, employees must be allowed to carry over up to 40 additional hours of accrued paid sick leave to use exclusively for FMLA purposes. (The FMLA generally covers private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees and all public sector agencies and schools regardless of the number of employees.) Therefore, for employers covered by the FMLA, employees will be permitted to carry over as many as 60 hours of paid sick leave per year. Notably, employers are not required to pay out accrued by unused paid sick leave upon an employee’s termination, unless the applicable collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise.

For unionized employers, the Ordinance’s requirements do not take effect until the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in place at the time the Ordinance goes into effect. After that date, an employer and union may agree to waive the requirements of the Ordinance in the collective bargaining agreement.

The Ordinance requires that employers give employees notice of their right to paid sick leave in two forms: a notice posted in a conspicuous place at each facility located within the city; and a notice to employees with their first paycheck. These notices will be developed by the City’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Finally, employees may sue for violations of the Ordinance. If a violation is established, employees may be entitled to recover damages equal to three times the full amount of sick leave denied or lost due to the violation, plus interest, as well as attorneys’ fees.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the Ordinance on June 22, after which it will go to Mayor Emanuel for action assuming passage by the City Council.