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.

Rule the Rules of Workplace Wellness Programs

Being Healthy in the workplace is a great goal, but there are considerable factors to keep in mind.  The book covers health and workplace wellness, but the focus is on the legal and logistic aspects and helping guide the professionals developing legally healthy wellness programs in the workplace.

ABA WellnessClick here to purchase the guide.

The approach of this book is to inform the reader of the “what,” “why” and “how” of workplace wellness program laws:

 1) What laws are important for workplace wellness program compliance;

 2) Why do those laws exist and why are they important for workplace wellness program design and implementation; and

3) How can workplace wellness professionals and organizations apply workplace wellness laws effectively?

Company Awarded Damages After Former Employee Hacks Its Systems and Hijacks Its Website

A company can recover damages from its former employee in connection with his hacking into its payroll system to inflate his pay, accessing its proprietary files without authorization and hijacking its website, a federal court ruled. Tyan, Inc. v. Yovan Garcia, Case No. CV 15-05443- MWF (JPRx) (C.D. Cali. May 2, 2017).

data security privacy FCC cybersecurityThe Defendant worked as a patrol officer for a security company. The company noticed that its payroll system indicated that the Defendant was working substantial overtime hours that were inconsistent with his scheduled hours. Upon further investigation, the company learned that that the Defendant accessed the payroll system without authorization from the laptop in his patrol car. When the company confronted him, the Defendant claimed a competitor hacked the payroll system as a means to pay him to keep quiet about his discovery that the competitor had taken confidential information from the company. A few months later, shortly after the Defendant left the company, the company’s computer system was hacked and its website was hijacked. The company later filed suit against the Defendant alleging he was responsible for the hack and the hijacking.

Following a bench trial, the court concluded the Defendant had used an administrative password the company had not given him to inflate his hours in its payroll system. The court also found the Defendant hijacked the company’s website and posted an unflattering image of the company’s owner on the website. In addition, the court found the Defendant engaged in a conspiracy to steal confidential files from the company’s computer system by accessing it remotely without authorization and destroyed some of the company’s computer files and servers.

The court concluded that the aim of the conspiracy in which the Defendant was engaged was twofold: first, to damage his former employer in an effort to reduce its competitive advantage; and second, to obtain access to those files that gave his former employer its business advantage, and use them to solicit its clients on behalf of a company he started. The court also found that by accessing the company’s protected network to artificially inflate his hours and by participating in the conspiracy to hack the company’s systems, the Defendant was liable for violations of the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, the Stored Communications Act, the California Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

As a result of Defendant’s misconduct, the court awarded the company $318,661.70 in actual damages, including damages for the inflated wages the company paid the Defendant, the cost of consultant services to repair the damage from the hack, increased payroll costs for time spent by employees rebuilding records and databases destroyed in the hack, the resale value of the company’s proprietary files, and lost profits caused by the hack. The court declined to award punitive damages under the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act, but left open the possibility that the Plaintiff may recover its attorneys’ fees at a later date.

Take Away

Companies are reminded that malicious insiders, in particular disgruntled former employees, with access to areas of the system external hackers generally can’t easily access, often result in the most costly data breaches.

Steps should be taken to mitigate insider threats including:

  • Limiting remote access to company systems
  • Increased monitoring of company systems following a negative workplace event such as the departure of a disgruntled employee
  • Changing passwords and deactivating accounts during the termination process

Rights of HIV-Positive Job Applicants and Employees

Job ApplicantsHIV infection is a disability under the Americans with Disabilites Act. What rights and responsibilities does an employer have in relation to HIV-positive applicants and employees? The EEOC recently clarified its position concerning HIV-positive individuals in the workplace in a press release, as well as documents addressing the rights of HIV-positive workers, including the right to be free from discrimination and harassment, and guidance to physicians in facilitating accommodations for those individuals.more

An HIV-positive applicant/employee can generally keep his or her condition private, unless he or she is requesting a reasonable accommodation, or if there is objective evidence (not based on “myths or stereotypes”) that he or she may be unable to do the job or poses a safety risk. Employers do not have to retain employees who are unable to perform, or who pose a “direct threat” to safety, defined by the EEOC as a significant risk of substantial harm even with a reasonable accommodation.

Of course, the applicant or employee is free to choose to reveal his or her status in response to an employer affirmative action program, and the employer may ask medical questions after a job offer has been made, but before employment begins, if everyone entering the same job category is asked the same questions. An employee may also have to discuss his or her HIV status with an employer in order to establish eligibility under other laws, such as the FMLA.

Physicians are reminded that nothing in the ADA alters legal and ethical privacy obligations to patients, and that they should disclose medical information to an employer only if and as authorized by the patient in a signed release. For example, a patient may request that his or her healthcare provider not disclose a specific diagnosis, in which case the physician may state, generally, that the patient has an “immune disorder,” rather than stating that he or she is HIV-positive. Providers may need to discuss an alternative accommodation with the employer, if an initially proposed accommodation would be too difficult or costly.

During FY2014, the EEOC resolved almost 200 charges of discrimination based on applicant/employee HIV status, obtaining more than $825,000.00 for those individuals.

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

SCOTUS Rejects a Rule Neither Employers nor Employees Wanted: Green v. Brennan Decision

Supreme Court Green v. BrennanIn Monday’s Green v. Brennan ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the limitations period for constructive discharge runs from the date the employee gives notice of the intent to resign. The 7-1 outcome was not a surprise following the questioning by the justices during oral arguments. The justices held that the filing period begins when an employee resigns as a result of discriminatory behavior, not when an employer creates an environment so adversarial that an employee feels forced to resign, previously ruled in 2014 by the Tenth Circuit.

The case stems from an original complaint in 2008 by Green, a postmaster in Colorado. Green, who was passed over for a promotion, claimed someone less qualified received the position which caused him to file a discrimination complaint with the equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC).

The court was confronted with three alternative dates by which the limitations period that the EEOC must be contacted would begin to run:

  1. The date Green signed a settlement agreement giving him the option to retire or take a position 300 miles away with a significant pay cut, Dec. 16, 2009, and also the date alleged to be the last act of discriminatory conduct compelling petitioner Green to resign

  2. The date on which Green notified the respondent Postal Service of his intention to resign, Feb. 9, 2010, or,

  3. The date Green’s resignation actually became effective, March 31, 2010.

The choice was determinative because the controlling statute of limitations required Green to contact an EEOC counselor within 45 days of the “matter alleged to be discriminatory,” a notably ambiguous requirement. Green contacted an EEOC counselor on March 22, 2010, 96 days after signing a settlement agreement and 41 days after submitting his notice of resignation. The circuits were split on whether the limitations period ran from the “last discriminatory act” or the date the employee resigns.

The rule represents both interpretive and practical considerations that should be viewed favorable to employers, including:

  • It places constructive discharge claims on equal footing with ordinary wrongful discharge claims that require both discrimination and notification of being fired

  • Nothing in the limitations regulation provided an “exception” to the ordinary rule

  • Practical consideration supported the rule applied because it made little sense to start the clock ticking before a plaintiff could actually file suit

Employers should welcome this outcome and breathe a sigh of relief because of the definitiveness and certainty it brings to both the accrual and repose of limitation periods applying to federal employment discrimination claims.

© 2016 BARNES & THORNBURG LLP

NLRB to Decide Organizing Rights of Non-Teaching Employees at Religious Colleges, Universities

NLRB national labor relations boardThe National Labor Relations Board is set to decide if the same test used to determine whether teaching employees of a religious school are subject to the Board’s jurisdiction should be extended to non-teaching employeesIslamic Saudi Academy, Case 05-RC-080474 (May 12, 2016).

In Pacific Lutheran University, 361 NLRB No. 157 (2014), the Board adopted a two-part test for determining whether to exercise jurisdiction over teachers at such schools under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop, 440 U.S. 490 (1979). The Board held that a college or university claiming that it is exempt from NLRB jurisdiction must first demonstrate it holds itself out as providing a “religious educational environment”. If the school satisfies that requirement, it then must show that it holds out the faculty members who a union is seeking to represent “as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining the college or university’s religious educational environment, as demonstrated by its representations to current or potential students and faculty members, and the community at large.”

On whether a school satisfies the second part of the test, the Board will determine whether the school holds out its faculty members as performing any religious function in creating or maintaining a religious educational environment. The Board noted that evidence in support of this requirement might include showing “that faculty members are required to serve a religious function, such as integrating the institution’s religious teachings into coursework, serving as religious advisors to students, propagating religious tenets, or engaging in religious indoctrination or religious training.” For more on Pacific Lutheran University, see NLRB Announces New Standard for Exercising Jurisdiction Over Religiously Affiliated Colleges and Universities.

Islamic Saudi Academy is a non-profit private educational institution operating an elementary and secondary school at two locations in Fairfax County, Virginia. In May 2012, the Islamic Saudi Academy Employee Professional Association filed a petition to represent, among others, the Academy’s non-teachers, such as nurses, IT employees, librarians, finance clerks, and internal auditors. After several procedural twists and turns, as well as issuance by the Board of its decision in Pacific Lutheran University, the Board ordered the case be remanded to the Regional Director “for further appropriate action consistent with its decision in Pacific Lutheran University.

The Regional Director decided that, assuming Pacific Lutheran University applies to non-teaching employees at primary and secondary schools, the Academy had not established that the non-teaching classifications were held out as performing a specific religious function and that the Board should assert jurisdiction over the non-teaching classifications. The Academy then requested review by the NLRB.

It is unclear how the second part of the test –holding employees out as performing a religious function — would be applied to non-teaching employees, since the school must show the non-teacher performs a religious function in creating or maintaining a religious educational environment. Certainly, with respect to many non-teachers, satisfying the burden of proof will be a tall order.

Article by Howard M. Bloom & Philip B. Rosen of Jackson Lewis P.C.
Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016

Taco Bell Employees Likely Are Not Celebrating Their “Victory” in California Meal and Rest Period Class Action

More than a few media sources have reported on the March 10, 2016 wage-hour “victory” by a class of Taco Bell employees on meal period claims in a jury trial in the Eastern District of California.  A closer review of the case and the jury verdict suggests that those employees may not be celebrating after all — and that Taco Bell may well be the victor in the case.

The trial involved claims that Taco Bell had not complied with California’s meal and rest period laws. The employees sought meal and rest period premiums and associated penalties for a class of employees that reportedly exceeded 134,000 members.

Now, it is certainly true that, at trial, a class of employees prevailed on a claim that Taco Bell did not comply with California meal period laws for a limited period of time (2003-2007), when Taco Bell reportedly provided employees with 30 minutes of pay when they were not able to take meal periods, rather than the full one-hour of pay provided for by California law.

And it is certainly true that the class of employees was awarded approximately $496,000 on that claim.

But as it appears that there were more than 134,000 employees in the class, a few punches on the calculator show that, on average, each employee would receive approximately $3.

Perhaps more importantly, while it may have lost on that one claim, Taco Bell prevailed on the remaining claims in the case where the class alleged that Taco Bell had violated both meal and rest period laws as to its employees, including a claim that Taco Bell had not provided meal periods in compliance with the law for a period of approximately 10 years (2003-2013).   That claim alone likely would have resulted in a jury verdict of several million dollars had the employees prevailed on it.  But they did not.  Taco Bell did.

In other words, in a case where the employees were presumably asking a jury for several millions of dollars for alleged violations dating back to George W. Bush’s first term as President, they were only awarded approximately $496,000.

In the grand scheme of a class action, where employers must constantly weight the costs of litigation with the benefits of settlement, that is a small sum.  It is likely an amount Taco Bell gladly would have paid to settle the case.  In fact, one would have to speculate that $496,000 is likely much less than the amount Taco Bell actually offered the employees and their attorneys to resolve the case in mediation or otherwise.

So while the media may be reporting that this is a “victory” for Taco Bell employees, those employees, who will receive $3 each on average, may not see it that way.  Instead, they may well be questioning the lead plaintiffs and their attorneys about how much Taco Bell offered at the settlement table, if it was rejected, and why.

(And before anyone responds, “But the employees’ attorneys will get their attorneys fees,” we’re talking about the recovery for the employees themselves. If the real victors in the case are the attorneys, that’s another issue, isn’t it?)

©2016 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.