Cook County Continues National Trend Mandating Paid Leave for Any Reason
Director of Compliance
Employers in the United States should remain cognizant that employee rights are progressing swiftly. New leave entitlements represent a larger trend toward an employee-centric legal culture that enhances worker protections. An example of this trend is for states and other localities to legislatively require employers to provide paid leave to their employees that can be used for any reason. Illinois, Chicago, Maine, and Nevada are examples of jurisdictions that have passed these laws, with many more expected to follow.
This paid leave trend continued December 14, 2023, as Cook County, Illinois, revamped its Earned Sick Leave ordinance, converting it to an ordinance mandating paid leave for any reason. Here are some of the key provisions of the Cook County Paid Leave Ordinance (“Ordinance”) which took effect December 31, 2023.1
Leave Accrual and Carryover
Employees working in Cook County, with limited exceptions, accrue paid leave at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked for an employer, up to 40 hours per benefit year. Employees exempt from overtime are presumed to work 40 hours a week, unless their regular workweek is under 40 hours, in which case leave is accrued based on their regular workweek. Employers must allow employees to carryover accrued, unused paid leave to the next benefit year but may cap paid leave use at 40 hours a year. The benefit year may be any 12-month period designated by the employer.
Frontloading Leave Hours
Rather than accruing leave, employers may frontload 40 hours of paid leave at the beginning of the benefit year. If employers frontload, they are relieved from the carryover obligation and any unused paid leave is forfeited by the employee at the end of the year.
Expansion of Leave Usage
Paid leave may be used for any reason and employers may not require employees to provide a reason for the leave. A reasonable minimum increment for using paid leave, not to exceed two hours, may be implemented by employers. Unless stated otherwise by an employer, employees may not begin using paid leave until their 90th day of employment, or until March 30, 2024, whichever is later.
Employer Notice Requirements
Employers must conspicuously post notice in their Cook County workplaces advising employees of their rights under the Ordinance. Cook County will provide a form notice that meets this requirement. Also, employers must provide written notice to employees regarding their paid leave rights at the time of hire. Notice of these rights must also be included in the employer’s employee handbook or leave policy if the employer has one.
Employee Notice and Documentation
Employees may be required to provide up to seven days’ advance notice of the need for foreseeable leave, and notice “as soon as practicable” for unforeseeable leave. Employers, however, may not require employees to submit documentation supporting their reason for leave.
Existing Paid Leave Policies
Employers with an existing paid leave policy comply with the Ordinance if leave under the policy may be used for any reason and the policy otherwise meets or exceeds the Ordinance’s requirements.
The Ordinance does not require financial or other payment to employees for unused leave upon the employee’s termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment
Employers must make and preserve records for at least three years documenting hours worked, paid leave accrued and taken, and the leave balance for each employee
Employers may not take or threaten to take adverse action against an employee because the employee exercised or attempted to exercise rights under the Ordinance, opposed practices the employee believed violated the Ordinance, or supported the exercise of Ordinance rights. Employees unlawfully retaliated against may seek all appropriate legal and equitable relief.
Employers in Cook County should familiarize themselves with all aspects of the Cook County Paid Leave Ordinance to remain compliant and avoid liability. They should also revise their paid leave policies to comply with the new Ordinance.
Additionally, employers across the United States should monitor the legal landscape in jurisdictions where they have employees as “paid leave for any reason” laws, similar to the Cook County Ordinance, will continue to spread. And if you are unsure about the applicability or meaning of Ordinance provisions, contact your legal counsel for clarification.
1The Cook County Paid Leave Ordinance is largely modeled after the Illinois Paid Leave for All Workers Act (PLAWA). Since the Cook County Paid Leave Ordinance took effect before the effective date of the PLAWA (January 1, 2024), employers covered by the Ordinance are not covered by the PLAWA.
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