Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Pa. Supreme Court revives Pittsburgh's controversial Paid Sick Days Act after four-year battle

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jul 29, 2019


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG – According to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and after a four-year-long court battle, the City of Pittsburgh has the ability and authority to mandate all of its employers to provide their employees with paid sick days.

On July 17, a majority of the state’s high court decided that the City’s Paid Sick Days Act, one opposed by many commercial and business interests, would not overstep the home rule boundaries extended to Pittsburgh.

Along with reviving the Paid Sick Days Act, the state Supreme Court also did away with Pittsburgh’s Safe and Secure Buildings Act, which mandated both employers and building owners to provide emergency services training to building security and other workers.

The latter law did exceed the City’s home rule, according to the high court.

State Supreme Court Justice David N. Wecht authored the majority decision, with regard to both laws.

Both of the aforementioned laws were passed by the Pittsburgh City Council in 2015 – and struck down by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a decision handed down in May 2017.

Pittsburgh officials said the sick leave law was approved “to enhance the public health by ensuring that employees across the City of Pittsburgh are able to earn paid sick time,” according to Wecht.

The Paid Sick Days Act calls for employees of businesses with 15 or more workers be allowed to annually accrue up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. Firms with fewer than 15 employees must allow their workers to accrue 24 hours of paid leave annually.

Opponents of both laws dubbed them “impermissible business regulations”, but the state Supreme Court disagreed.

While admitting the burden to businesses “was not insignificant”, the state Supreme Court said the power to levy the rules contained within the Paid Sick Days Act was not outside the City’s authority and it was to have a positive effect on public health.

“The ordinance nonetheless bears a direct nexus with public health and, all things being equal, lies squarely within both the ambit of the city’s traditional police powers and state law,” Wecht said.

However, the high court reached no such conclusion on the Safe and Secure Buildings Act.

“It is one thing to say that the Commonwealth intends that local municipalities have an obligation to respond effectively to disasters and should plan for same. It is quite another to establish a grant of authority that is in derogation of the Business Exclusion,” Wecht stated.

Supreme Court justices Thomas G. Saylor, Max Baer and Kevin M. Dougherty filed accompanying opinions, each of which was both concurring and dissenting.

“I would clarify that…the challenged ordinance must be supported by more than a generalized mandate to suppress disease, as salutary a goal as that may be. Because the Paid Sick Days Act fails to satisfy that standard, I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion,” Saylor stated.

Baer disagreed with the majority as to the authority possessed by home rule cities like Pittsburgh to pass such laws, which he said suffered from “shortcomings.”

“While…second class cities have some authority to regulate businesses and employers in a manner to protect the general welfare of their citizens, the statutes simply do not provide express statutory authority allowing home-rule municipalities to mandate that businesses and employers provide sick leave to their employees,” Baer said.

Dougherty concurred with the majority as to the Paid Sick Days Act, but dissented on the Safe and Secure Buildings Act.

“While the majority embraces a liberal construction of the City’s home rule municipality powers in interpreting the Disease Prevention and Control Law and resolves all ambiguities in favor of local regulation, thus finding the requisite authority for the Paid Sick Days Act to overcome the Business Exclusion, the majority fails to engage in an equally liberal construction when analyzing the City’s proffered authority for the Safe and Secure Buildings Act,” Dougherty stated.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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