Q. My company has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Is Pittsburgh’s new paid sick leave law the same as Philadelphia’s paid sick leave law?
A. Effective March 15, 2020, Pittsburgh will be joining Philadelphia and several other jurisdictions in requiring employers to provide sick leave to its employees. While these laws share the same intent, there are several notable differences in terms of compliance. For companies like yours that operate in both cities, the distinctions between the two laws may necessitate separate policies for employees based on their location.
For example, Pittsburgh’s “Paid Sick Days Act” (PSDA) requires employers to provide each “covered employee” with at least one hour of paid sick time for every 35 hours worked within the City’s geographic boundaries. By contrast, Philadelphia’s “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act” (PHFW) allows for employees to earn sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked.
Using identical language, both the PHFW and the PSDA provide sick time for “an employee’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; an employee’s need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition; an employee’s need for preventive medical care,” or to provide care for a family member with those same needs.
However, the two laws differ in other ways. Specifically, the PHFW provides additional coverage for absences taken by victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, provided the leave is used for medical care, counseling, relocation, or to receive legal services following incidents of domestic or sexual violence. By contrast, the PSDA allows employees to use sick time in the event of a closure of the employee’s place of business by order of a public health official, or to provide for childcare in the event of school closings.
Under either law, the number of employees employed by your company will determine which provisions are applicable. The PHFW requires Philadelphia employers with 10 or more employees to provide paid sick leave, while employers with fewer than 10 employees may provide unpaid sick leave. Under the Pittsburgh law, employers with 15 or more employees must provide paid sick leave. Note that the PSDA allows employers with fewer than 15 employees to provide unpaid sick leave, but only for the first year. Beginning on March 15, 2021, even employers with fewer than 15 employees must provide paid sick leave. However, the PSDA’s 15-employee threshold affects the accrual cap for paid sick leave. Employers with 15 or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per calendar year. while employers below the threshold may cap the amount of accrued sick time at 24 hours per year.
The Acts also differ regarding who is considered to be covered employee. In Philadelphia, employees must work within the geographical boundaries of the city for at least 40 hours in a year to be eligible for sick leave. In Pittsburgh, however, employees become eligible for paid sick leave after working 35 hours in the city’s geographic boundaries. Notably, under the PSDA, employers with employees working outside the boundaries of Pittsburgh must count those employees to determine the number of employees. Thus, a Pittsburgh employer with 9 employees working in Pittsburgh and 6 employees working in Philadelphia would meet the 15-employee threshold under the PSDA. While the PHFW does not count employees working outside Philadelphia with regard to its 10-employee threshold, any “chain establishment,” defined as an entity operating “under the same trade name” at 15 or more locations, will be required to provide paid sick leave, regardless of the number of employees working in Philadelphia.
Both Acts exclude independent contractors, seasonal workers and public employees. The PHFW also excludes adjunct professors, employees hired for a term of less than six months, interns, pool employees and employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. The Pittsburgh law excludes only members of construction unions working under a collective bargaining agreement.
Both laws allow employees to carry over earned, unused sick time to the following year, up to the annual accrual cap. However, to avoid the administrative headaches of calculating unused sick time each year, employers may “front load” employee sick time by providing the required annual allotment at the beginning of each year. Employees are not entitled to a payout for accrued, unused sick time after leaving their employment under either Act.
The distinctions between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh laws provide just one example of the difficulties faced by national companies in creating one paid sick leave policy that will be compliant across jurisdictions. Employers seeking one universal policy will have to comply with the most generous of the relevant laws. To the extent that employers choose to have different sick leave policies in place for each jurisdiction, these companies must keep track of hours worked by employees who regularly work in more than one jurisdiction to determine whether one or more paid sick leave laws apply.