The city of Pittsburgh is preparing to defend two laws that would impact local workers – one requiring private employers to offer paid sick leave, and another creating new training requirements for security officers in many city buildings.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decide to hear cases challenging the laws early next year.
So far, the city has lost in lower courts because, the courts found, it does not have the authority to impose these regulations on businesses.
Pittsburgh city councilman Corey O’Connor sponsored one of the laws the justices will consider, the Paid Sick Days Act, and stands by the legislation.
“It shows that we are willing to fight for workers and individuals to ensure the health and well-being of our residents and workers, as well as businesses,” O’Connor said. “You would see less turnover in organizations if they had policies like this.”
The ordinance, which does not apply to federal and state employees, indicates that paid sick time improves worker loyalty and productivity.
Melissa Bova of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, which brought the suit against the Paid Sick Days Act with five local businesses, counters that the law would hurt companies.
“A business that has 10 employees is inherently different than a business with 500,” Bova said. “When you have a law that basically rewrites an HR manual and says that everybody’s the same, it does make it logistically difficult for businesses to operate.”
Under the act, companies would be required to give employees an hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours they work. But, businesses with fewer than 15 workers could cap the amount of paid sick time at three days per year. In addition, if the state Supreme Court allows the law to take effect, these businesses would be exempt from paying for sick days during the first year of enforcement.
Larger employers would be required to offer workers at least five paid sick days each year, as soon as the law goes into effect.
The more important point, Bova said, is that the city has broken the law.
“This is just a matter of law,” she explained. “We did not file suit because we don’t care about our employees. We filed suit because we feel that the city of Pittsburgh overstepped its legal authority.”
So far, the courts have agreed with Bova. Before reaching the state's highest court, the city lost at trial and on its first appeal at the Commonwealth Court. In its majority opinion, the Commonwealth Court called paid sick leave “a laudable goal,” but ultimately concluded that the city can’t force businesses to offer it.
Specifically, Pittsburgh’s Home Rule Charter, which governs Pittsburgh's relationship with the state, does not give the city the authority to regulate businesses in ways that state law does not expressly permit.
The same rule, the Commonwealth Court found, also applies to the other Pittsburgh ordinance going to the Supreme Court. That statute would place new training requirements on security workers in many of the city’s buildings.
The city argues that it may impose these requirements as a matter of public safety, but the Commonwealth Court again ruled that state law prohibits such business regulations in local municipalities like Pittsburgh.