Emma Gallimore Mar. 11, 2016, 10:34am


PITTSBURGH - The overturning of Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance in December might be the start of a new trend in the nationwide debate over paid sick leave, an attorney says.

“As a general matter, states have considered but not passed paid sick leave laws, and cities have gotten frustrated,” Andrew Livingston of Orrick, Global Employment Law Group told the Pennsylvania Record.

Currently, only Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon have state PSL regulations in place. On Feb 17, the Vermont legislature passed a paid sick leave law, which Gov Peter Shumlin signed. The new regulation will go into effect January 2017.

At last count, 22 cities both inside and outside those states have enacted PSL laws including New York City, San Francisco and Newark, N.J. Washington D.C. also has PSL laws in place.

“Cities have decided to take matters into their own hands. That, as you may expect, has not made states very happy,” Livingston said.

Pittsburgh followed in the footsteps of Philadelphia and nearly became one of those states. The Pittsburgh City Council enacted the legislation in August.

Under the ordinance, employers would have been required to pay one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours an employee worked, with hours accruing from the first hour of employment.

“The actual ordinance is not that different from other ordinances we’ve seen,” Livingston said. “It’s one of the first times a state has set aside a city ordinance.”

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Hospitality Association filed a lawsuit against the City in Sept. It alleged that the City had violated the statutory limits on its power by attempting to enforce a one-size-fits-all mandate on every business in the city.

Judge Joseph James agreed and called the ordinance invalid and unenforceable.

“The City of Pittsburgh overstepped its bounds and intruded on states' rights,” Livingston said.

This is not the first time a city PSL ordinance has been overturned. A combination of judicial and legislative measures led to the repeal of Milwaukee’s PSL ordinance in June 2011.

Legislation in Seattle and Trenton has faced repeated attacks along similar lines.

“Several states have passed laws forbidding cities from doing what Pittsburgh did,” Livingston said.

These states include Florida, which passed a law in 2013 that prohibited cities and counties from making businesses provide paid sick leave.

The multiple levels of paid sick leave regulations are creating challenges in some states, where businesses and legal professionals are struggling to harmonize state and city laws, he said.

Pittsburgh businesses won’t need to face that challenge anytime soon, but it remains to be seen what effect this ruling will have on PSL regulations across the state.

“Certainly other towns and cities in Pennsylvania will definitely think twice before passing their own sick leave laws.” Livingston said. “Outside of Pennsylvania, I’m not sure how much influence this case will have.”

Philadelphia’s paid sick leave regulations, which were enacted in May, could be particularly vulnerable to attack, but no challenger has yet come forward.

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