When the City of Pittsburgh enacted the Paid Sick Days Ordinance in August 2015, it delayed the effective date until the City Controller’s Office posted regulations and notice information for employers.1 The Controller’s Office published the required notices and a series of FAQs on October 12, 2015.2 As a result, the Paid Sick Days Ordinance will take effect January 11, 2016.
Overview of the Ordinance
Under the Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Ordinance, employees accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours they work (including overtime hours) in Pittsburgh. Employees of employers with 15 or more employees can accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Employees of employers with fewer than 15 employees can accrue up to 24 hours of paid sick time per year. In the initial year, employees of employers with fewer than 15 employees will accrue only unpaid sick time rather than paid sick time. Now that the effective date is known, employees will begin accruing paid sick time on January 11, 2016, but employees are not entitled to take paid sick time until 90 days later, or April 10, 2016.
The Required Notices
The Controller’s Office issued two notices that employers are required to post in order to comply with the notice requirements of the Ordinance. Employers must use the actual notices published by the Controller’s Office or face a fine.
The notices may create some confusion. Employers may, therefore, want to explain the details of the Ordinance in either their existing paid time off (PTO) or sick pay policy or in a separate policy to supplement the summary of the law provided in the official notices. For example, the “Pittsburgh Paid Sick Time” notice describes the rate of pay for paid sick time differently than does the Ordinance. The Ordinance states that paid sick time is to be paid at the “same base rate of pay” that an employee would have earned at the time s/he uses paid sick time. The required notice states, “Employees must be paid at least their same hourly rate.” This difference may lead some employees to misunderstand how their paid sick time will be calculated. For example, if employees use paid sick time during a shift in which they are earning overtime, they may believe they are entitled to receive sick pay at their overtime rate instead of their base rate. In addition, the “Notice to Employees” fails to explain that employees who are employed by employers with fewer than 15 people only accrue unpaid sick time rather than paid sick time.
The Ordinance directs the Controller’s Office to provide “multilingual informational materials” about the availability of paid sick time. The Controller’s Office has not yet published any such materials. Employers should monitor the Controller’s Office’s website in order to obtain the required notices and other materials in other languages when they are posted.
The Controller’s Office published FAQs instead of formal regulations. Unfortunately, the FAQs provide no new information nor do they clarify anything in the Ordinance. They simply summarize the Ordinance in a Q&A format.
What Should Employers Do to Prepare?
Employers who have employees who work in Pittsburgh, even irregularly, should take steps to comply with the Ordinance now. If an employer’s existing PTO or sick policies do not comply with all of the requirements of the Ordinance, the employer will be found to have violated the Ordinance. As discussed in detail in our August 6, 2015 Insight, the Ordinance contains very specific requirements with respect to the accrual rate, the carryover of unused time, the reinstatement of accrued sick pay time for rehired employees, the increments in which leave may be taken, and the reasons for taking leave. The Ordinance also restricts an employer’s ability to request documentation to verify that the employee used paid sick time for a permissible purpose and prohibits employers from considering time taken for paid sick leave in any absence control policy.
In light of these detailed requirements, employers need to review their PTO or sick pay policies carefully. Many employers will need to decide soon whether they will change their existing PTO or sick policies to incorporate the requirements of the Ordinance or create a separate paid sick leave policy and leave bank. Employers will also want to consider whether to frontload paid sick time or permit it to be carried over each year, and whether they should adopt formal call-off procedures or modify their existing call-off procedures rather than rely on the default call-off rule in the Ordinance.
Employers must post the required notices on or before January 11, 2016. Employers will want to continue to monitor the Controller’s Office website for updated information on the Ordinance, including information in other languages.
A group of local businesses has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Ordinance in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Briefs will not be filed until November, and a final decision on the suit will likely not be made prior to the effective date of the Ordinance.
Given the intricacies of the Ordinance and its impact on human resources policies and payroll practices, employers should plan and prepare now so they can comply with the Ordinance on January 11, 2016.