Chicago Joins Growing Trend in Requiring Paid Sick Leave

paid sick leaveThe City of Chicago joined an emerging national trend when it unanimously passed an ordinance that requires employers to provide workers with paid sick days.

The change will go into effect on July 1, 2017, and expands benefits already provided under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA grants covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to attend to the serious health condition of the employee or a covered family member. In contrast, the Chicago ordinance requires businesses to provide eligible employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours of total paid sick leave in each 12-month period.

The ordinance, which is technically an amendment to Chicago’s minimum wage law, covers all employees who perform at least two hours of work within the City in any two-week period and who work at least 80 hours during any 120-day period. The ordinance applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees, that maintain a business facility within the geographic boundaries of the City or who are subject to one of the City’s licensing requirements. The law permits employees to carry up to 2.5 paid sick days over to the following year, but does not require employers to pay employees for unused sick days.

New employees will be eligible to use paid sick days after an initial six-month probationary period. Employers who already offer paid time off that satisfies the requirements of
the ordinance will not be required to provide additional benefits.

Under the ordinance, employees will be able to use paid sick leave for their own illnesses, injuries, medical care or preventative care, or for the illnesses, injuries, medical care or preventative care of covered family members. Pursuant to the law, “family members” is construed broadly to include a child, legal guardian, spouse, domestic partner, parent, the parent of a spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or any other individual related by blood whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. Employees also can use paid sick leave if they or their family members are victims of domestic violence or if their place of business or child care facility has been closed due to a public health emergency.

In passing the amendment, Chicago has added another potential landmine in the already tough- to-navigate employer/employee relationship. The ordinance allows employers to require that employees who use paid sick leave for more than three consecutive days provide certification that the leave was for a qualifying purpose. However, the ordinance prohibits employers from inquiring as to the specific nature of the medical issue. As such, employers should tread carefully when addressing employees’ health issues and corresponding requests for time off.

Currently, four states have laws requiring employers to issue paid sick leave benefits. Connecticut passed the first such law in 2011, followed by Massachusetts and California in 2014 and Oregon in 2015. Likewise, roughly 20 cities across the country have enacted similar regulations, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle and Philadelphia.

© 2016 Wilson Elser

Appellate Division Upholds Decision in Walmart Workers’ Comp Case

walmart-signA particularly noteworthy case was recently decided by the Appellate Division on November 20, 2015. This case, Colleen Fitzgerald v. Walmart, is so interesting because the Court found that the worker’s injured condition did not qualify as a work related injury simply because she felt a “pop” in her low back while walking at work.

The Petitioner, Colleen Fitzgerald, filed a claim for an accident that occurred on April 26, 2010, while she was working for Walmart. She stated that she was merely walking in the store and felt a “pop” in her low back. While at the time of the claim Ms. Fitzgerald said she felt the pop she was not doing anything other than walking, later testimony revealed that at some time prior to the incident she had been doing some lifting at work in her position as a zone merchandise supervisor.

She reported the accident to her manager, and after seeing her family doctor who diagnosed her with protruding lumbar discs, she took FMLA for 12 weeks and a leave of absence while she received treatment. She did return to work at Walmart for a period of time, however because she then had another non-work related slip and fall accident where she broke her elbow, she was ultimately terminated from her job at Walmart. There was never any authorized treatment provided by the Workers’ Compensation carrier for Walmart.

Petitioner filed two claim petitions, one for the specific incident that occurred on April 26th and an occupational claim for work she did from December 2008 through April 2010. Since Walmart denied both claims, petitioner filed a Motion for Medical and Temporary Disability benefits with the Workers’ Compensation Court. The Motion was heard by Judge Gangloff, who found in favor of Walmart, as did the Appellate Division on appeal.

In the trial before Judge Gangloff, both sides called medical experts to testify. Petitioner’s expert, Dr. Gaffney, testified that in his opinion petitioner’s injury was caused by her work at Walmart, while Respondent’s expert, Dr. Meeteer felt that the injury was not related.

The Appellate Division upheld Judge Gangloff’s decision under Close v. Kordulak and held that they found no reason to disturb his well-reasoned findings. They stated that the Judge reviewed the applicable case law and applied the two step “positional risk test” for determining whether the injury arose out of the course of employment. The first part of this test requires the petitioner to prove that “but for” the fact of employment the injury would not have happened. The next part of the test is to analyze the “nature of the risk” that caused the injury.

In this case, the Court concluded that that the petitioner failed to satisfy the first part of the test because “the facts here do not establish that the petitioner would not have been exposed to the risk if she had not been at work.” In other words, as she was simply walking when she felt the “pop” in her back, the back injury could have just as easily occurred while she was not at work. According Judge Gangloff, “she could have been walking anywhere at the time of onset of pain.” He found that there was nothing about the workplace that contributed to petitioner’s injuries. The Judge did not find that petitioner had a compensable occupational claim either, because the medical records did not support Dr. Gaffney’s opinion that her condition was somehow related to a progressive occupational condition.


Another Paid Family and Medical Leave Proposal: District of Columbia Considers 16 Weeks of Paid Leave under a Local Government-Administered Mandatory Fund Using a Payroll Tax

Advocates of paid family and medical leave programs continue to press for change. In September, we reported on the Obama Executive Order that mandates paid family and medical leave for federal contractors as part of a paid sick leave requirement. Currently, both California and New Jersey have paid family and medical leave that supplements the unpaid leave benefits provided under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Earlier this month, seven members of the District of Columbia’s local government Council introduced a bill (the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015) that mandates up to 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all private and local public employees who spend at least 50 percent of their working time in the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia proposal would require all employers to pay an amount equal to one percent of each employee’s annual compensation into a Family and Medical Leave Fund administered by the city. The contribution would be structured as an additional payroll tax paid by the employer, following the model of unemployment compensation. The proposal calls for the creation of a “user-friendly, online portal” on the Internet that provides information on the family and medical leave benefit and allows the submission of claims for these benefits. The resemblance to the web-based portal for Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is probably not a coincidence.

The structure of the paid family and medical leave benefit and the levy on employers that pays for it would be progressive in the tax sense, involving a subsidy of lower income employees’ benefits by contributions for higher income employees. The wages of higher income employees are not as fully protected as the wages of lower income employees. Benefits would be paid at 100 percent of the employee’s average wage up to $1,000 per week, and 50 percent of the employee’s average wage over $1,000, up to a maximum available benefit of $3,000 per week. However, the payroll tax is a flat one percent of all compensation without an upper limit. Further, if the Family and Medical Leave Fund accumulates at least a one-year reserve against claims, the payroll tax is reduced to zero percent for incomes under $10,000 per year, .5 percent for incomes under $20,000, .6 percent for incomes under $50,000, .8 percent for incomes under $150,000 and one percent of incomes over $150,000.

Although federal government employees would not be covered by the Universal Paid Leave Act, federal agencies and federal contractors may opt-in to participate. The program would apply to all other full and part time workers in the District of Columbia.


Uncertainty Follows Judicial Decision Enjoining DOL’s Same Sex Spouse Rule Change

Dinsmore Shohl LLP

Following Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a decision by Texas District Court Judge Reed O’Connor adds to the controversy and conversation surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights movement.

Opponents to the Indiana law say it will allow businesses to deny services to customers based on customers’ sexual orientation or gender identity and justify this denial based on religious beliefs. A day after Governor Pence signed Indiana’s RFRA into law, on March 27, 2015, the Arkansas legislature voted to enact its own religious freedom legislation known as the “Conscience Protection Act”, and the bill is currently before Governor Asa Hutchinson.

While the Arkansas Governor is set to consider religious freedoms and LGBT discrimination, Arkansas’s Attorney General has been battling the Department of Labor (DOL) in another issue impacting LGBT employees. On March 26, 2015, in Texas v. United States, N.D. Texas No. 7:15-cv-00056-O, Judge O’Connor granted an injunction to Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska to temporarily halt the DOL’s Final Rule revising the definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The DOL’s Final Rule took effect on March 27, 2015 and changed the definition of “spouse” to include individuals in same-sex marriages if the marriage was valid in the place it was entered into regardless of where they live. The Final Rule reads as follows:

Spouse, as defined in the statute, means a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either:

(1) Was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages; or

(2) If entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.

29 C.F.R. § 825.102. This change enables eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse with a serious medical condition. The Final Rule no longer looks to the laws of the state in which the employee resides but rather relies on the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage was entered into–i.e. the place of celebration.

Texas law, similar to Ohio, does not recognize same sex marriage. Texas, joined by Arkansas, Nebraska, and Louisiana, argued that the DOL exceeded its jurisdiction by requiring them to violate the Full Faith and Credit Statute and/or state law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. Texas argued that the Final Rule would require it to violate state law which prohibits it from giving any legal benefits asserted on the basis of a same-sex marriage. Judge O’Connor also relied on Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to hold that Congress intended to preserve a state’s ability to define marriage differently than another state or jurisdiction. Finding that the Final Rule would require Texas agencies to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages in violation of state law, Judge O’Connor temporarily halted the application of the Final Rule pending a full determination of this matter on the merits.

In these four states, Judge O’Connor’s decision prevents employees in same-sex marriages from receiving the benefits afforded heterosexual married couples until the issue is resolved through legal channels. However, employers are not prohibited from granting family leave benefits to qualifying employees to care for a loved one. Despite the decision—only applicable in four states—the Final Rule is currently in effect. For this reason, employers should proceed in accordance with the DOL’s regulation and fulfill its obligations to its LGBT employees by revising their family and medical leave policies and providing FMLA benefits to employees in legal same-sex marriages.


DOL Issues Final Rule Amending FMLA Definition of “Spouse” to Include Same-Sex Marriages

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a final rule amending the regulatory definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  We earlier reported on the DOL’s proposed rule to this effect, which is now final and will become effective on March 27, 2015.

The amendment changes the definition of “spouse” to include individuals in same-sex marriages if the marriage was valid in the place it was entered into regardless of where they live.  Before the new rule was issued, the FMLA and its accompanying regulations defined “spouse” as a husband or wife as recognized under the laws of the state in which the employee resides.  The new definition of spouse instead looks to the law of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was entered into and expressly encompasses same-sex married couples.  The final rule thus adopts a “place of celebration” rule rather than a “state of residence” rule for the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA.

According to the DOL, the amended regulatory definition of spouse permits “eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages [to] be able to take FMLA leave to care for their spouse or family member, regardless of where they live.”  The DOL has also suggested that the new rule will reduce the administrative burden on multi-state employers, who no longer have to consider an employee’s state of residence and the laws of that state in determining the employee’s eligibility for FMLA leave.

The new rule was prompted by the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which found unconstitutional those provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Some of the other features of the new rule include:

  • The new rule encompasses an employee in a same-sex marriage entered into abroad as long as the marriage is valid in the place it was entered into and could have been entered into in at least one state in the United States.

  • The new rule encompasses employees in a common law marriage as long as the common law marriage became valid in a state that recognizes such common law marriage.

  • An employee in a legal same-sex marriage can now take FMLA leave to care for his or her stepchild whereas before, an employee in a legal same-sex marriage could only take FMLA leave to care for his or her stepchild for whom the employee stood in loco parentis.

  • Similarly, an employee can now take FMLA to care for his stepparent who is the employee’s parent’s same-sex spouse, even if the stepparent never stood in loco parentisto the employee.


Paid Sick Leave: Coming Soon to a City Near You?

Barnes & Thornburg LLP Law Firm

President Obama reincarnated paid sick leave as a possible federal law right in his recent State of the Union address. “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.” Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees of covered employers currently have rights to as much as twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave per year. In addition, thousands of employers of every size voluntarily provide some form of paid sick leave in their employee benefits, such as a limited number of sick days or personal days. Three states (California, Connecticut and Massachusetts) presently mandate some form of paid sick leave for employees of private companies.

Although the President’s prospects for achieving a federal form of paid sick leave seem dim in the current Republican majority Congress, paid sick leave benefits are steadily rolling out at the municipal level.

The growing roster of cities with paid sick leave ordinances now includes: New York City; San Francisco; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Portland and Eugene, Oregon; and eight municipalities in New Jersey. This is a recent trend. In 2014, two states (Massachusetts and California) and five cities adopted paid sick leave laws for the first time. While more state-level paid sick leave laws do not appear to be on the near horizon, the steady growth of municipal-level paid sick leave requirements for private employers may indicate an important trend.

Local paid sick leave ordinances create serious complications for employers with widespread operations, resulting in a patchwork of employee benefits and medical leave issues on top of current FMLA compliance headaches.



Managing Ebola Concerns in the Workplace [PODCAST]

Jackson Lewis Law firm

Many employers are struggling to understand the potential workplace implications of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF).  We invite you to listen to a complimentary 48-minute podcast during which three Jackson Lewis practice group leaders discuss some of the legal and practical issues relating to the virus.  Among the issues discussed are:

  • Steps employers should consider taking to ensure OSHA and state workplace health and safety laws are satisfied;

  • ADA, GINA and FMLA compliance challenges that may arise as employers attempt to lawfully identify and manage employees who are or may have been exposed to Ebola; and

  • HIPAA and other sources of privacy and medical confidentiality obligations that should be considered as employers respond to workplace Ebola concerns.

You can access the podcast here.