An Employee’s Guide to Chicago’s New Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

We are thrilled to report that Chicago has joined the growing ranks of local governments ensuring paid sick leave for local employees!  This is a huge victory for single parents and low wage workers who, prior to this ordinance, were regularly faced with the awful risk of losing pay or, worse yet, a job if they choose to take a day off of work to recover from illness or nurture a sick child.  The new ordinance fills a huge gap left by the FMLA which only protects employers with 50 or more employees.  We’re sure that, like us, you have questions about how this law works – who it applies to, how you exercise your rights, etc.  For answers to those and more tips for employees under the ordinance, keep reading here.

Is My Job Covered by the Ordinance?

There are two things to thinking about in determining whether your job is covered by the ordinance.  First, does the ordinance apply to your specific employer.  And second, does it apply to you specifically.

So which employers are covered?  The new ordinance applies to any person, company, partnership, corporation, or other group which maintains a business within the boundaries of the City of Chicago and which employs at least one employee.  Employers who already provide more paid sick leave than is required by the ordinance, however, are exempt.  So if you work within the City of Chicago, it is likely that your job is covered!

And does the ordinance specifically apply to you?  Here’s what you need to know.  Any employee who works at least 80 hours in any 120 day period for a covered employer is entitled to protections of the ordinance.  However, there are several exceptions for certain types of employees, including certain sales people, construction workers, and other workers.

The vast majority of employees in Chicago will be covered.  But given these exceptions if you are unsure of your coverage you may want to reach out to a lawyer for assistance.

How Much Sick Leave Do I Get?

Every employee covered by the ordinance is entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.  However, employees can also carry over up to 20 hours of their paid sick leave to the following year if it is unused.

How Fast Do I Accrue Paid Leave?

Employees accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.  But, an employee cannot accrue more than 40 hours of paid leave in a 12 month period.  So, even if you work tons of overtime, your accrued leave will max out at 40 hours.

What Can I Use the Leave For?

A covered employee can use paid sick leave for his or her own illness, injury, medical care, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, employees may use their leave for a covered family member’s illness, injury, medical care, diagnosis, or treatment.  Covered family members are those related by blood, but also those whose relationship with the employee is close enough to be considered family.

Importantly, employees can also use their paid leave if they are forced to stay home because either their employer or their child’s school or day care is closed due to a public health emergency.  This includes snow days and other required closures.

Finally, covered employees may also use paid leave for absences resulting from an employee or employee’s family member being the victim of domestic violence or sex offenses.  This is a huge step forward in protecting

How do I Notify My Employer that I Need Leave?

The ordinance requires that, where possible, an employee give at least 7 days notice of a need for leave.  So, for instance, if you know you are scheduled for surgery on a specified date, you should notify your employer in advance.  However, if you come down with a sudden illness and cannot give advanced warning, you cannot be penalized.  Instead, you have to give your employer notice as soon as you’re able.  In other words, be sure to call in sick in the same way that you would have before the ordinance was enacted.

If you are out of work for more than three days in a row, your employer will be allowed to require that you bring in a doctor’s note.  However, this does not mean that every time you come down with a cold you will be required to go into your doctor for a note.  This will only be required if the cold has you down and out for more than three days.

How Much Will I be Paid During My Leave?

During a period of leave under the ordinance, an employee must be paid at the same rate of pay and receive the same types of benefits they would have received had they attended work.  If you work in an industry where your compensation is based in large part on tips, your employer will have to compensate you in accordance with the City’s minimum wage while you are out on leave.

Can I Start Using Paid Sick Leave Now?

The ordinance does not go into effect until July 1, 2017.  So, unfortunately, employees will have to wait an entire year before they start to receive these protections.  Additionally, new employees will not be allowed to use accrued leave until they have worked for a covered employee for at least 180 days.

Can My Employer Harass Me for Using My Paid Sick Leave?

No!  If you are at all worried that your employer is retaliating against you in any way for using your accrued paid sick leave (i.e., harassing you, demoting you, terminating you, etc.), please reach out to an attorney who can help you assess whether you may have legal claims worth pursuing.  Similarly, if you are denied access to your accrued leave in the first place, you may be able to pursue an action for damages.  Be sure to talk with a lawyer about your rights.