City Task Force Recommends that Chicago Employers Adopt 5 Days of Paid Sick Leave Annually

Last February 2015, 82 percent of Chicago voters supported a non-binding city referendum to adopt paid sick leave for workers. After this, the City formed a task force, called the Working Families Task Force, consisting of 27 members representing business, government, and employee advocacy interests to study paid sick leave policies.  After meeting with focus groups and hearing testimony from academics and policy experts, the task force issued its findings this week and recommended that Chicago employers adopt 5 days of paid sick leave annually.

There are certain federal and state laws already in place that require qualifying employers to provide unpaid sick leave in various circumstances. For instance, the federal law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) requires qualifying employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who have a serious health condition.  Federal, state, county, and municipal laws also require qualifying employers to accommodate an individual with a qualifying disability, and accommodations often include allowing employees to take a reasonable amount of unpaid sick leave.

However, currently there is no federal, Illinois, or Chicago law that requires employers to provide paid sick leave. For now at least, paid sick leave is considered a benefit offered at the employer’s discretion, and many employers, including many Chicago employers do not offer such leave to their employees.

Although the law in this State does not mandate it, a trend has begun to take place here and in other parts of the country in which employers have begun adopting and expanding their paid leave policies on their own initiative (both sick leave and parental/ family leave) realizing that such policies are extremely important to employees. The employers who have led these efforts are typically those in white collar, professional industries, but there is a large sector of employers with lower-wage workers who do not offer any such paid sick time.  The lower-wage employees are often the ones that cannot afford to take unpaid sick time or risk losing their jobs if they take the needed time off.

Reports estimate that the number of individuals who do not have access to paid sick days in Illinois is at least 460,000, and some reports estimate that number to be substantially higher at nearly 2.1 million.

The Working Families Task Force addressed these issues and recommended the adoption of paid sick time protection for workers in Chicago. Specifically, the task force proposed that employers should allow workers to earn an hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to five days per year, with the ability to roll over up to 20 hours of unused sick days to the following year.  The task force recommended that this policy apply to all employers, regardless of size.  The task force further recommended that employees should be allowed to bank up to five days of earned sick leave to use for FMLA leave, which in addition to protecting employees with serious health conditions, allows employees to care for seriously ill family members or take time off for the birth or adoption of a child.

To balance the interests of employers, the task force recommended that new hires would not be able to use sick days until having worked at least 180 days and that employers would not be required to pay out unused sick days upon an employee’s separation from the company.

More than 20 cities already have paid sick leave laws in place and with a large majority of Chicago city voters supporting these policies, the task force’s recommendations appear to reflect a balanced and reasoned approach to what is beginning to be widely recognized as a necessary employment benefit for employees.

Please visit the Chicago Tribune’s article on the task force’s findings available at