Chicago and Cook County Paid Sick Leave Laws Go Into Effect July 1: Are You Ready?

As the holiday weekend approaches, many employers in Chicago and Cook County find themselves scrambling to prepare for the Chicago and Cook County Paid Sick Leave Ordinances that will take effect this Saturday, July 1, 2017. The Ordinances, though straightforward in their purpose of providing some limited sick paid time off to employees, raise a number of thorny, confusing questions and various administrative concerns for all employers. To add to this uncertainty, the City of Chicago only yesterday released its extensive final interpretative rules on the City’s Ordinance, which raise a number of interpretative questions and, in places, appear to diverge from the previously-issued final rules of the Cook County Commission on Human Rights on the County’s Ordinance. Not only that, the list of Cook County’s municipalities that are opting out from the County’s Ordinance has been changing, literally, by the hour. To help you get up to speed and make any final necessary changes, in this Alert we will review some key requirements and provide responses to some FAQs employers have been asking related to paid sick leave in Chicago and Cook County.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements

The Ordinances require employers in Chicago and certain municipalities in Cook County to provide all employees, regardless of full-time, part-time, seasonal, or temporary status, with one (1) hour of paid sick leave for every for 40 hours worked, up to a maximum accrual cap of 40 hours in any benefit year. Employees are entitled to begin using accrued paid sick leave following 180 days of employment, provided they have worked at least 80 hours in any 120 day period.

Employees must be allowed to use paid sick leave for any of the following reasons:

  • The employee is ill, injured, or requires medical care (including preventive care);

  • A member of the employee’s family is ill, injured, or requires medical care;

  • The employee or a member of his or her family, is the victim of domestic or sexual violence; or

  • The employee’s place of business, or the childcare facility or school of the employee’s child, has been closed by an order of a public official due to a public health emergency.

In addition to providing employees with paid sick leave, employers are required to inform employees about their rights to paid sick leave by posting the Chicago and Cook County notices in the workplace and distributing these notices to employees with their first paycheck following the Ordinances’ effective date, or with any new employee’s first paycheck.

Frequently Asked Questions

When updating their employment policies and/or practices, employers should be mindful of the following frequently asked questions:

Do the Ordinances apply to all employees working in Chicago and/or Cook County?

The Ordinances are broadly worded such that employers are required to provide paid sick leave to all employees working in the geographic boundaries of the City of Chicago and/or Cook County. However, the Cook County Ordinance permits municipalities in Cook County to opt out of the Ordinance prior to its effective date.

So far, more than half of the municipalities in Cook County have opted out of the Cook County Ordinance, meaning that employers are not required to provide paid sick leave to employees working in these locations. However, if an employee should change work locations, or travel for work, into a municipality that has not opted out of the Cook County Ordinance (such as the City of Chicago), the employee would be entitled to accrue paid sick leave for hours worked in that municipality.

Are employees able to carryover accrued paid sick leave?

The Ordinances permit employees to carryover half of their accrued unused paid sick leave, up to a cap of 20 hours, into the next benefit year. Employees working for employers covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may carryover up to an additional 40 hours of paid sick leave into the next benefit year, to be used exclusively for FMLA-specific purposes.

Nonetheless, in most instances, employers may cap the amount of paid sick leave that an employee can use in a benefit year at 40 hours. The exception to this rule being that employees who carryover and use all 40 hours of FMLA-specific paid sick leave may use an additional 20 hours of regular paid sick leave in any benefit year. Thus, in limited circumstances employees may be able to use as many as 60 hours of paid sick leave in a single benefit year.

Are employers permitted to front-load paid sick leave?

Both Ordinances permit employers to front-load paid sick leave at the start of the benefit year, or at the time of hire. Employers who front-load paid sick leave do not need to track paid sick leave accrual or permit the carryover of paid sick leave into the next benefit year, provided that the requisite amount of paid sick leave has been front-loaded. The precise amount of paid sick leave to be front-loaded may depend on whether the employer is subject to FMLA and/or based in Chicago or Cook County, as their respective rules address front-loading differently. Employers with questions regarding the precise amount of paid sick leave that must be provided to employees should contact counsel.

Are employers able to provide paid time off in lieu of paid sick leave?

Employers may provide employees with paid time off (PTO) instead of paid sick leave, provided that all their employees are provided at least as much PTO as the Ordinances require to be made available for paid sick leave use in a benefit year. Employers should note, however, that accrued unused PTO must be paid out upon termination of employment. There is no such requirement to pay out accrued unused paid sick leave.

Recommendations

In light of the impending effective date for Chicago’s and Cook County’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinances, it is important that employers take any remaining necessary steps to ensure that their paid sick leave policies and practices will comply with the Ordinances. Policies that do not provide the requisite benefits to employees, or those that are silent on key issues such as paid sick leave accrual and/or usage restrictions, will be construed against the employer and could lead to costly violations.

This post was written by Alexis M. Dominguez and Sonya Rosenberg  of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.

Cook County, Illinois Increases Minimum Wage

cook county illinois minimum wageEffective July 1, 2017, employers in Cook County, Illinois, will be required to pay a higher minimum wage that will continue to increase every year thereafter. On October 26, 2016, the Cook County Board voted to gradually increase the minimum wage to $13 per hour by July of 2020. This is similar to the City of Chicago’s minimum wage increase, which gradually raises the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2019. The new law applies to the all of Cook County, including unincorporated areas. However, home-rule towns can vote to opt out of the increase.

The minimum wage will first increase from $8.25 to $10 per hour on July 1, 2017. It will subsequently increase $1 per year until reaching $13 an hour in 2020. Future annual increases will be tied to the rate of inflation, not to exceed 2.5%. Tipped workers who make $4.95 under Illinois law will not see a wage increase until July 1, 2018, and these wage increases will be tied to the rate of inflation, not to exceed 2.5%.

Employers in Cook County should prepare for payroll increases beginning July 2017 and continuing every year thereafter.

Cook County, Illinois, Enacts Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

paid earned Sick leaveThe Cook County “Earned Sick Leave” Ordinance mandates that employers in Cook County, Illinois, allow eligible employees to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in each 12-month period of their employment. The Ordinance, passed on October 5, 2016, becomes effective on July 1, 2017.

The Ordinance is similar to amendments to the Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance providing for paid sick leave, also going into effect on July 1. Chicago is part of Cook County.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements

Who is covered?

Individuals are entitled to benefits under the Ordinance if they:

perform at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present within the geographic boundaries of the County in any particular two-week period; and work at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period.

Compensated time spent traveling in Cook County, including for deliveries and sales calls and for travel related to other business activity taking place in the County, can count toward the two-hour requirement. However, uncompensated commuting time in the County will not be counted. Certain railroad employees are not covered by the Act.

Covered employers include individuals and companies with a place of business within the County that gainfully employ at least one covered employee. Government entities and Indian tribes are not covered employers under the Ordinance.

The Ordinance does not apply to collective bargaining agreements in force on July 1, 2017. After that date, the Ordinance may be waived in a bona fide CBA if the waiver is explicit and unambiguous. In addition, the Ordinance does not apply to any covered employee in the construction industry who is covered by a bona fide CBA.

What if my company already provides employees with paid time off (PTO)?

If an employer has a policy that grants employees PTO in an amount and a manner that meets the requirements of the new Ordinance, the employer is not required to provide additional paid leave. However, any existing PTO policy must meet each requirement of the Ordinance, including the reasons for which the time off may be used, to qualify for this exemption.

When do employees begin to accrue paid sick leave?

Employees begin to accrue paid sick leave on the first calendar day after the start of their employment or July 1, 2017, whichever is later.

How much sick leave is required and can employers limit the amount used?

Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. For purposes of calculating accruals, the Ordinance assumes exempt employees work 40 hours per workweek, unless their normal workweek is less, in which case the accrual will be based upon the number of hours in their normal workweek.

Accrual and usage of paid sick leave is capped at 40 hours for each 12-month period. Employees may carry over half of their unused paid sick leave (up to 20 hours) to the next 12-month period. The Ordinance also provides for additional carryover and usage for employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act that can be used exclusively for FMLA-eligible purposes.

When can employees start using paid sick leave?

New employees can begin using accrued paid sick leave no later than the 180th day following the commencement of employment. The Ordinance is unclear as to how the 180-day waiting period will apply to current employees who were hired prior to July 1, 2017.

For what reasons can an employee use paid sick leave?

Employees may use paid sick leave for their own illness, injuries, or medical care (including preventive care) or for the illness, injuries, or medical care of certain covered family members. “Family member” is defined broadly to include a child, legal guardian, or ward, spouse under the laws of any state, domestic partner, parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent or a family relationship. “Family member” also includes step- and foster relationships.

Employees also can use paid sick leave if either the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence or a sex offense.

Finally, employees are entitled to use paid sick leave if their place of business or the child care facility or school of their child has been closed by an order of a public official due to a public health emergency.

Can employers set restrictions on the use of paid sick leave?

Employers are entitled to set reasonable minimum increments for the use of paid sick leave, not to exceed four hours a day.

What notice must be provided by employees who need to use paid sick leave?

Employers may require that employees provide up to seven days’ advance notice if the need for paid sick leave is foreseeable. Scheduled medical appointments and court dates for domestic violence will be considered reasonably foreseeable. If the need for leave is unforeseeable, employees must provide as much notice as is practical. The Ordinance expressly provides that employees may notify their employers of the need for leave by phone, email, or text message. Employers may adopt notification policies if they notify covered employees in writing of such policies and the policy is not unreasonably burdensome. If leave is covered by the FMLA, notice must be in accordance with the FMLA. Employees need not give notice if they are unconscious or medically incapacitated.

Employers also may require that employees using paid sick leave for more than three consecutive workdays provide certification that the leave was for a qualifying purpose. However, employers cannot require that certification specify the nature of the medical issue necessitating the need for leave, except as required by law. Employers cannot delay commencement of Earned Sick Leave or delay payment of wages because they have not received the required certification.

Do employers have to pay out unused, accrued paid leave upon termination?

Unlike PTO and vacation pay, unless a collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise, unused, accrued sick leave need not be paid out upon termination or separation of employment.

What are the posting and notice requirements?

Employers must post notice of employees’ rights in a conspicuous place at each facility where any covered employee works that is located within the geographic boundaries of the County.

In addition, at the commencement of employment, employers must provide each covered employee written notice advising of his or her rights to Earned Sick Leave under the Ordinance. The Cook County Commission on Human Rights will publish a form notice.

Implementation and Enforcement

The Ordinance provides a private right of action for employees who believe they are denied their right to request or use paid sick leave. Employers who violate the Ordinance may be subject to damages equal to three times the amount of any unpaid sick time denied or lost as a result of the violation, along with interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Anti-Retaliation

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or taking any adverse action against covered employees in retaliation for exercising, or attempting in good faith to exercise, any right under the Ordinance, including disclosing, reporting, or testifying about any violation of the Ordinance or regulations promulgated thereunder, or requesting or using paid sick leave. Additionally, an employee’s use of paid sick leave under the Ordinance cannot be counted for purposes of determining discipline, discharge, demotion, suspension, or any other adverse activity under an employer’s absence-control policy.

Employers with operations in Cook County, Illinois, should review the Ordinance and their policies and practices related to paid sick leave carefully.

Employers should review their policies and practices regularly with employment counsel to ensure they effectively address specific organizational needs and comply with all applicable laws.

Article by Kathryn Montgomery Moran & Jody Kahn Mason of Jackson Lewis P.C.

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