Major Headaches Coming for Chicago and Cook County Employers When Implementing Paid Sick Leave Ordinances

Date   Jun 22, 2017

As most employers in the “Chicagoland” area are hopefully already aware, both Chicago and Cook County have enacted paid sick leave (PSL) ordinances that go into effect July 1, 2017. Although the two ordinances are remarkably similar as written, the two jurisdictions have set forth rules that interpret the ordinances that are remarkably different. Cook County’s Interpretative and Procedural Rules went into effect on May 25, 2017. Chicago’s rules are still in draft form and were open to public comment until June 16, 2017. On June 21, 2017, we attended a meeting held at the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, the department that will be tasked with enforcing the Ordinance. The City has indicated that it will issue final rules before July 1, 2017, but has not given a specific date. Based on comments made by the attorneys charged with drafting the City’s rules, we expect some changes to be made to the final rules, some possibly significant. We will provide an updated Alert as soon as the final rules have been published. In the meantime, given how many employers operate both in Cook County and in Chicago, as the rules stand now, having two completely different sets of rules interpreting virtually the same ordinances is extraordinarily cumbersome and burdensome. And as of June 22, 2017, 66 municipalities in Cook County have opted out of the earned sick leave ordinance and several more are considering opting out as of the time this Alert was drafted, further complicating compliance.

This Alert is intended to remind employers with employees performing work in Chicago and most areas of Cook County that they must immediately evaluate their current leave policies to determine whether they comply with the upcoming requirements for paid sick leave, or whether they will need to draft an entirely new policy. Because of the complexities of these new ordinances and the differences in interpretations, we have separately prepared a more detailed article that can be accessed here and directly from the In Depth Analysis page of our website. Within the more detailed article, readers will find links to both ordinances, both sets of rules (again, Chicago’s is still a draft), and a handy chart that compares and contrasts the differences in the two sets of rules.

General Issues: At the outset, employers must know that in general, they will need to provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked in either Chicago or Cook County (unless the Cook County jurisdiction has opted out). Both ordinances restrict usage to 40 hours in a year (unless the employer chooses to allow more) for general sick leave purposes, and up to another 20 hours if the employee is taking time off for FMLA purposes. Again, these are generalities covered by the ordinances, and there are exceptions and variances, which are discussed in more detail in the linked Article.

Use of sick leave: Both ordinances allow for the use of paid sick leave for the same reasons: 1) for an employee’s illness or injury (including medical care, treatment and diagnosis) and preventative medical care; 2) if an employee needs to care for an ill or injured family member or if a family member is receiving preventative care; 3) if an employee or family member is victim of domestic violence or a sex offense; 4) for an employee’s need to care for a child whose school has been closed due to a public health emergency; or 5) if the employee’s place of business has been closed for the same reason.

“Family members” under both ordinances are defined broadly, and include the employee’s child (biological, adopted, step, and foster), spouse, domestic partner, parent (including biological, foster, stepparent, or adoptive parent), sibling, grandparent, grandchild or other blood relative, or any person whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.

Union Employees and Other Exclusions: Both ordinances allow unions to waive paid sick leave requirements in collective bargaining agreements, as long as the waiver is clear.

Carryover: Both ordinances allow for carrying over half, up to 20 hours of unused paid sick leave from one year to the next, and up to 40 hours if the leave is being used for an FMLA leave in the next year. Where the two sets of rules greatly diverge is how exactly the time is carried over. Very generally speaking, in Cook County, the unused leave is to be cut in half with one half being carried over to be used for any of the general types of sick leave stated in the ordinance, and the other half being available for use if the employee has an FMLA leave the next year. Chicago’s draft rules, however, seemingly require employees to make a specific decision at the end of the year as to whether they would like to carry over their time to be used for the general reasons in the ordinance, in which case they could only carry over half of the unused time up to 20 hours, or if they want it to be carried over to be used for FMLA purposes, in which case they can carry it all over (up to 40 hours). Once the choice is made, the carried over time can only be used for the selected reason (unless the employer’s policy allows otherwise).

Avoiding Tracking of Accrued Time or Carrying Over: Both sets of rules provide ways in which employers can avoid having to track time or carry it over from one year to the next. Unfortunately, both rules handle it differently. Generally speaking, in Cook County, an employer may avoid having to track the accrual of earned sick leave and avoid having to carry over any unused earned sick leave to the next year if it grants at the beginning of the first year of employment 40 hours of Ordinance-Restricted Earned Sick Leave (the type of leave allowed in the ordinance), and then in each subsequent year, 60 hours of Ordinance-Restricted Earned Sick Leave plus 40 hours of FMLA-Restricted Earned Sick Leave (for a total of 100 hours). If an employer wishes to only avoid having to carry over unused sick leave from one year to the next, but still have to track sick leave as it is being earned, then at the beginning of the second and all subsequent years of employment, it would need to provide an immediate grant of at least 20 hours of Ordinance-Restricted Sick Leave and 40 hours of FMLA-Restricted Earned Sick Leave.

Under Chicago’s draft rules, however, an employer need only grant 40 hours of paid sick leave within the first 180 days after hire, and then 60 hours at the beginning of each subsequent year, and allow the employee to use the leave for any of the reasons listed in the ordinance, in order to avoid both having to track accrual of paid sick leave or carrying over unused sick leave into the next year.

Limits on Use: In Cook County, an employer can limit use of PSL to 40 hours in a year without regard to whether the sick leave was carried over from the prior year or whether it is earned in the current year. However, in one circumstance, an employee has the right to use up to 60 hours, which is when he carries over 40 hours from the prior period that is designated as FMLA-Restricted Earned Sick Leave, and then uses all 40 hours. At that point, he can use up to an additional 20 hours of Ordinance-Restricted Earned Sick Leave.

Under the draft Chicago rules, however, an employer can limit use of PSL to 40 hours per year of “regular use” paid sick leave, plus 20 hours of PSL for FMLA use (thus opposite of Cook County’s allowance of use of 40 hours for FMLA and 20 for “regular” paid sick leave).

Procedures for Enforcement and Remedies: The remedies and procedures for enforcement are also different. Although both rules state that a private right of action is available, the methods of enforcement and potential damages are different. See the full article for the details on enforcement options and potential remedies and damages.

Conclusion: At this point, Cook County employers seemingly know what they have to work with, and it appears that erring on the side of caution will go a long way. Unless Chicago amends its draft rules to be more consistent with Cook County, employers are stuck trying to comply with the inconsistencies in the rules both compared to Cook County’s rules and compared to Chicago’s actual ordinance. For now, all employers with any employees in these jurisdictions must immediately review their current policies and determine whether they comply with the ordinances and rules (which is unlikely given the litany of minimum requirements), whether exiting policies can simply be amended, or whether the employer needs entirely new policies. We are available to consult on all of these issues.

If you have any questions regarding this Alert, please feel free to contact the authors, Kimberly A. Ross,, or Craig R. Thorstenson,, both of whom are partners in our Chicago office. Of course, you may also contact the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.