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Coronavirus Update: Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act

March 18, 2020

By Alan C. Blanco, Esquire and Marilyn Le Lodico, Esquire

The arrival of the COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) in southwestern Pennsylvania and the social distancing measures imposed to slow the spread of the virus have forced many employees out of work.  Unfortunately, many employees may be forced to stay home due to their own illness or the illness of a family member, or due to Coronavirus related business closures.  This bulletin addresses some of the misinformation that appears to be spreading about how the City of Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Days Act (City Code Chapter 626) (the “Act”) may mitigate the economic effects of Coronavirus-driven lost time from work.

Coronavirus Struck Too Soon for Many Employees to Accrue Paid Sick Time under the Act

While the Act went into effect on March 15, 2020, the paid sick time benefits under the Act may not provide much financial thermometer and pillsrelief for many eligible employees who are unable to work due to Coronavirus. The Act provides a floor for paid sick benefits and will require certain employers who did not offer sufficient sick benefits to bring their benefit levels up to required minimums.  The Act repeatedly cautions that it is not intended to replace better employer benefits than the floor required by the Act.

The Act contains accrual schedules under which eligible employees within the City of Pittsburgh are able to earn paid sick time.  However, these eligible employees only begin to accrue paid sick time on the effective date of the Act, March 15, 2020 (this last Sunday), or the commencement of their employment if they become employed after the Act’s effective date.  Employers who have implemented remote work procedures should be counting all hours worked, whether from an office, or home, or other location, as time worked for accrual purposes.

Under the Act, different accrual requirements and maximums apply, depending on the size of the employer.

  • All employees of employers with 15 or more employees accrue a minimum of 1 hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked in the City of Pittsburgh, to a maximum of 40 accrued hours.
  • All employees of employers with fewer than 15 employees accrue at the same rate of 1 hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked, to a maximum of 24 hours in a year. For the first year after the Act’s effective date (until March 15, 2021), accrued sick time may be unpaid.  After March 15, 2021, the employees are permitted to accrue up to 24 paid hours of sick time.
  • For both the group of larger employers (15 and over) and the group of smaller employers (under 15), if the employer provides more generous accrual rates or accrual maximums, these more generous benefits supersede the minimum benefit levels required by the Act.

Accrued sick time under the Act may be used for the employee’s own illness, the employee’s absence to take care of a family member, or due to “[c]losure of the employee’s place of business by order of a public health official due to a public health emergency or need to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed by order of a public official due to a public health emergency.”  Because sick leave accrual is based on time worked after March 15, 2020, employees of businesses affected by the current shutdowns of schools, non-essential businesses, and bars and restaurants will simply be unable to work the hours necessary to accrue significant paid sick time under the Act.  Essentially, the Coronavirus struck the City of Pittsburgh too soon for many eligible employees affected by the Coronavirus to realize all the Act’s intended financial protections.

Other Protections under the Act for Coronavirus Impacted Employees

The Act contains anti-retaliatory provisions that prohibit employers from taking certain adverse actions against employees who exercised rights protected under the Act such as the right to use sick time, the right to file a complaint with the Office of the City Controller or a court; or the right to inform any person about any employer’s alleged violations of the Act. The Act also contains notice and recordkeeping requirements and a requirement that employers with a paid leave or paid time off policy make sick leave available in the smaller of hourly increments or the smallest increment the payroll system uses to account for absences or the use of other time.  The Act also requires that employers not count sick time taken under the Act against the employee under any absence control policies that could result in adverse action to the employee.

The Act imposes various requirements for employers and employees within the City of Pittsburgh that are impacted by the Coronavirus.  Those with questions should consult their Rothman Gordon employment attorney for comprehensive guidance on Act compliance during this time. Contact us online or call (412) 338-1100.

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