© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

City Council Pushes Bill Forward To Extend Mandatory COVID-19 Sick Leave

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council advanced a bill Wednesday that would keep paid sick leave requirements intact for city businesses. A 2020 ordinance guaranteed sick time for workers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19, but expired in June when Pennsylvania’s emergency declaration ended.

A council standing committee unanimously passed the bill that would extend the benefit for one year. It's scheduled for a final vote next week.

It grants 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees who catch the virus, if they worked an average of at least 40 hours per week for an employer with at least 50 workers. It also guarantees time for employees who need to care for a family member with COVID-19, or if an employee has been exposed to the virus and needs to quarantine.

The ordinance was first enacted last year, as a measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 for workers who weren’t otherwise granted paid sick time. Councilor Bobby Wilson, who is sponsoring the bill to extend the requirement, said more infectious COVID-19 strains and uncertainty about the risk of unvaccinated children returning to the classroom make paid sick time vital.

“As we move into the school year, we don’t want a parent to have to decide between whether to take care of their child or a paycheck,” he said. And allowing sick workers to stay home could prevent an outbreak that shuts down a business. “We want to make sure that we keep the economy going.”

Wilson introduced a different sick leave extension earlier this month that would have required COVID-19 sick leave until 90% of Pennsylvanians were fully vaccinated against the virus. That would have effectively made the requirement permanent. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, only about 62% of Pennsylvania adults have been fully vaccinated as of this week.

Wilson said he talked with business leaders about his proposed extension earlier this month, which informed his revisions. The current bill extends the ordinance for just a year, instead of until a threshold of vaccinations is met.

“Getting through this [next] year would allow time for public health officials to make decisions,” about how effective the vaccine is against variants, he said.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant Association opposed the COVID-19 sick leave bill last year and criticized the progress of the bill Wednesday.

“[City Council has] arbitrarily extended this leave policy for another year instead of redirecting their energy to other initiatives like promoting vaccines,” said Zak Pyzik, director of government affairs for the group. “With vaccination rates increasing and mitigation orders now having been lifted, businesses are doing their best to recover from the pandemic while simultaneously addressing new challenges like staffing shortages.”

The organization cited reservations about how struggling businesses would afford paid sick leave after federal tax credits — which are used to support the benefit — expire at the end of 2021.

“This move creates more unpredictability for the industry and is another burden on businesses operating in Pittsburgh that companies located elsewhere are not subject to.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.