Court Strikes Down Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Law

Dec 22, 2015

Service workers rallied Downtown in June in support of paid sick time. Court of Common Please Judge Joseph M. James struck down the law on Monday citing the city's "invalid and unenforceable" claim to protect employees' rights under the umbrella of public health.
Credit Jennifer England / Pink Coat Communications

An Allegheny County judge has struck down Pittsburgh’s mandate that employers provide paid sick days to employees. 

The ruling comes after several area businesses, including Church Brew Works and Dirt Doctors Cleaning Service, joined with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association to file suit.

"We certainly didn't want to enter this fight. This was purely a matter of legality for our association, for the businesses in Pittsburgh,” said association spokesperson Melissa Bova. “This has nothing to do with the underlying issue with people wanting paid leave; this is purely Pittsburgh overstepping its rights in passing this law, and we needed to do something about it."

In a statement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called the ruling “a step backward for Pittsburgh.”

“The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid sick leave,” Peduto said.

The Paid Sick Days Act would have required employers with 15 or more employees to offer up to 40 hours of pack sick time. People working at businesses with fewer than 15 employees would have maxed out at 24 hours.

Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James called the ordinance “invalid and unenforceable.” His ruling was based on a 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling regarding requirements council tried to place on companies that work on a contract basis, which stated that City Council members can’t dictate “duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers.”

Councilwoman Darlene Harris predicted such a ruling in August, when she abstained from the vote which created the ordinance.

“PA courts have struck down similar ordinances that this council has passed because of being a second class city,” she said. “We are prohibited from placing requirements on private businesses.”

Councilman Corey O’Connor, who was the primary sponsor of the act, pitched it not as a labor issue but as a public health and safety issue. James rejected that reasoning in court, citing the city's lack of an independent board of health.

“Therefore it is not empowered to enact an ordinance or issue rules and regulations relating to disease prevention and control,” James wrote.

City of Pittsburgh spokesperson Katie O’Malley said the city is reviewing its options but could not say whether it would appeal the decision.

Councilman O’Connor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.