Court Strikes Down Pittsburgh Paid Sick Leave Law

Judge Strikes Down Pittsburgh Paid Sick Leave Law

Paid sick leave remains a hot topic.  Thirteen states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin — and the District of Columbia allow at least some workers who already have paid sick days to use them to care for certain family members. Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon are the only states in the nation with statewide paid sick leave laws that provide a significant proportion of workers with paid sick leave.  President Obama also signed an Executive Order in 2015, giving federal contractors, as of January 1, 2017, up to seven paid sick days per year.  Many localities have also enacted paid sick leave ordinances.

Despite the trend towards paid sick leave, employers in Pittsburgh started the new year with some relief. While the City of Pittsburgh previously announced that its Paid Sick Days Act (“PSDA”) would become effective on January 11, 2016, a recent decision in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County prevents the need for Pittsburgh employers to comply with the PSDA in the new year.  If and when the PSDA ever becomes effective, it will require that employers with 15 or more employees provide each eligible employee with one hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked in Pittsburgh by the employee, up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.

The lawsuit, filed in September by the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and five Pittsburgh businesses, alleged that the PSDA constitutes “an illegal exercise of municipal authority” by the City.  On December 21, 2015, in Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Assn. v. City of Pittsburgh, Case No. GD 15-016442 (Allegheny Ct. Com. Pl. Dec. 21, 2015), the court agreed with the Associations’ argument and struck down Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance.

The court ruled that the City lacked the authority to pass and enforce the ordinance under Pennsylvania’s Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law (HRCL) by placing “affirmative duties on businesses, occupations and employers.”  The court reasoned that the 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Building Owners & Managers Assoc. of Pittsburgh v. City of Pittsburgh (Pa. 2009) 985 A.2d 711, where the court found that the “Protection of Displaced Contract Workers Ordinance” was invalid, was decisive for its invalidation of the PSDA.

The HRCL generally prohibits “home rule charter municipalities” like Pittsburgh from “determin[ing] duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers.”  The court determined that the PSDA does just that.  The court also found that the PSDA could not be enforced under an exception to the HRCL, the Pennsylvania’s Disease Prevention and Control Law (DPCL), because the DPCL applies only to “[m]unicipalities which have boards or departments of health or county departments of health” and “the City has neither a board nor a department of health.” The court further held that the City could not adopt the PSDA under Pennsylvania’s Second Class City Code because that law does not apply to home rule municipalities.  The court’s order granted the Associations’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and ordered that the PSDA is invalid and unenforceable.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Corey O’Connor who sponsored the legislation, says she was not surprised by the court challenge.  For now, O’Connor says Pittsburgh City Council and Pittsburgh City Mayor Bill Peduto will consult the City’s law department to see what the options are.  “If this is a fight we’re not going to win, we don’t want to waste taxpayer money. We certainly believe in this cause, but at this point I don’t know,” says O’Connor.

It is unclear whether the decision will be appealed.  At least for now, employers in Pittsburgh do not have to change sick leave policies or provide sick leave to employees in the new year.  A notice of appeal must be filed with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County within thirty days of the court’s order.  Until the City’s appeal deadline passes on January 20, 2016, employers should keep tabs on any developments.

Paid sick leave is likely going to be an ongoing issue for employers in 2016.  Many states have paid sick leave legislation pending in the upcoming legislative sessions.  On the federal stage, paid sick leave has been in the spotlight during the presidential debates.  The democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley have all expressed support for paid sick leave.  On the other hand, most of the republican candidates have expressed disapproval of any federally mandated paid sick leave.  One thing is for sure: paid sick leave will remain a hot issue for debate and legislation in 2016.

Contributor:  Jessica A. Schoendienst, Law Clerk | Weintraub Tobin