Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Pittsburgh's Authority to Enact Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, Revives "Dead" Law

On July 17, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the City of Pittsburgh's Paid Sick Days Act (PSDA) was a valid exercise of the City's "express statutory authority to legislate in furtherance of disease control and prevention."1 Although the decision resolves a nearly four-year battle over whether Pittsburgh had the authority to enact the law—which never took effect due to the legal challenge—it also creates uncertainty for businesses and leaves many pressing questions unanswered.

The PSDA was enacted on August 3, 2015, and it originally was scheduled to take effect 90 days after regulations and mandatory notices were published. Both regulations and the required notices were published, but before the law took effect, a state trial court judge held the City did not have the authority under state law to enact the law. The City appealed the ruling, which an appellate court affirmed on May 17, 2017. The City again appealed to the state supreme court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, resurrecting a law that had been dead for over three-and-a-half years. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that because the law has “a direct nexus to public health” and the regulation of public health is within the traditional powers of cities like Pittsburgh, the City had the authority to enact the PSDA.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling sends the case back to the trial court, and the law will be allowed to take effect.

Undoubtedly, employers with operations in Pittsburgh will have numerous questions, the most pressing being "when must we begin complying?" Because the decision was just issued, the City has yet to publish any information online. Moreover, long ago the City took the PSDA webpage offline. Accordingly, in the coming days and weeks interested employers should monitor for updates the City’s webpage——and that of the City Controller (the enforcement agency)—

Many employers hope the City will take a measured approach and give business sufficient time to prepare to implement the law, recognizing that changing employment and payroll policies, practices, and procedures takes time. Moreover, since 2015, when Pittsburgh enacted its law, the paid leave landscape has changed considerably, especially for employers operating in more than one paid leave jurisdiction. As a result, for many businesses, preparing to comply with the PSDA will involve much more than simply dusting off a policy that they may have planned to implement years ago when the law was set to take effect. The process is likely to be far more complicated and time-consuming now.

Littler's Paid Sick & Safe Time Subgroup will provide further, more detailed updates about developments as they occur. In the interim, for employers that need to brush up on the PSDA, see our previous articles, Pittsburgh City Council Approves Amended Paid Sick Leave Bill, and Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Ordinance: Notices Published and January Effective Date Set.

See Footnotes

1 Conversely, in the same opinion the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the City did not have the authority to enact its Safe and Secure Buildings Act, which "impose[d] education and training obligations upon building owners and their employees in furtherance of disaster preparedness, counterterrorism, and related concerns."  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the law did not fit into the narrow exception to the general prohibition state law places on cities like Pittsburgh against determining the duties, responsibilities or requirements that are placed on businesses.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.