Chicago, Cook County & Illinois Employers: What You Need To Know About Paid Sick Leave

By: Maital Savin, Associate

Chicago, Cook County and Illinois employers have not one, not two, but three sick leave ordinances with which they must comply, beginning in 2017. Read on for a quick and easy summary of what you need to know.

Chicago and Cook Country Sick Leave Ordinances

On 7/1/17, separate Chicago and Cook County ordinances providing for paid sick leave will go into effect. In a nutshell, the Cook County Earned Sick Leave Ordinance, and separately, the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance will allow eligible employees to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in each 12-month period. The two ordinances mirror each other with the primary difference being the applicable geographic area. Here is a summary of the ordinances’ key provisions:

  • Covered Employers:
    • Individuals and companies with a place of business within the City of Chicago/Cook County (or under the Chicago Ordinance, employers who are subject to at least one of Chicago’s licensing requirements) that employ at least one covered employee;
    • Government entities and Indian tribes are excluded from coverage.
  • Covered Employees:
    • Must perform at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present within the geographic boundaries of the City/County in any particular two-week period;
    • Compensated travel time within the geographically covered area (e.g., making deliveries, sales calls and travel related to other business activity in the covered area) counts towards the two-hour requirement.
  • Eligible Employees: Must work at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period.
  • Interplay with CBAs:
    • The ordinances may be waived by a collective bargaining agreement if the waiver is explicit and unambiguous;
    • The ordinances do not apply to any covered employee in the construction industry who is covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
  • Interplay with Existing PTO Policies: Employers that already provide paid time off that meets the ordinances’ requirements need not provide additional paid leave.
  • Leave Accrual:
    • Paid leave begins to accrue on the first calendar day after the start of employment or 7/1/17, whichever is later;
    • Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked;
    • The Ordinance assumes employees who are exempt from overtime, work 40 hours per workweek, unless their normal workweek is shorter;
    • Employees can accrue only up to 40 hours for each 12-month period.
  • Carry Over & FMLA Interplay:          
    • Employees may carry over half of their unused paid sick leave (max of 20 hours) to the following 12-month period;
    • However, if employers are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), their employees may carryover up to an additional 40 hours of unused paid sick leave, to use exclusively for FMLA eligible purposes.
  • Leave Usage:
    • Employers must allow employees to begin to use accrued paid sick leave no later than the 180th day after they begin employment. The ordinances do not address how this will apply to existing employees;
    • Employees may use leave for their own illness, injuries or medical care, or for the illness, injury or medical care of a child, legal guardian or ward, spouse or domestic partner, parent, parent of spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship;
    • Leave may also be used for employees or their family members who are victims of domestic violence or a sex offense;
    • Leave may also be used if an employee’s place of business or the child care facility or school of their child has been ordered closed due to a public health emergency;
    • Employers may set reasonable minimum increments for the use of paid sick leave up to 4 hours/day;
    • Employers may require employees to provide up to seven days’ advance notice if the need for leave is foreseeable, or as much notice as practicable if the need for leave is not foreseeable;
    • Employers may require employees using paid sick leave for more than three consecutive workdays to provide certification for the leave; however, employers may not require that the certification specify the nature of the medical issue and employers may not delay paid leave because they have not received certification;
    • Employers may not require employees to find a replacement worker to cover their work as a condition of using earned sick leave.
  • Leave upon Separation: Unless an employment contract or CBA provides otherwise, unused accrued sick leave need not be paid at separation of employment.
  • Notice:
    • Employers must post notice of employees’ rights under the ordinance in a conspicuous place at each facility where a covered employee works that is located in the geographically covered area;
    • Employers must provide employees with written notice of their rights advising employees of their earned sick leave rights under the ordinance.
  • Anti-retaliation: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who take leave under the ordinances.
  • Potential Damages: Employers who violate the ordinances are subject to damages equal to three times the amount of unpaid sick leave denied or lost, plus interest, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

It is noteworthy that the Illinois constitution provides that municipal ordinances prevail when there is a conflict between county and municipal ordinances. This means that municipalities outside of Chicago, but within the Cook County geographic area, may pass ordinances to opt out of the County’s sick leave ordinance. Several municipalities have expressed interest in doing so. We will continue to monitor this and keep you posted.

Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act

Finally, Illinois has passed its own, Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act, which went into effect on 1/1/17. Unlike the Chicago and Cook County ordinances, the Act does not require employers to provide paid sick leave. Instead, the Act expands coverage to allow employees to use paid sick leave for absences due to illness, injury or medical appointments of the employee’s child, spouse, sibling, parent or spouse’s parent, grandchild, grandparent or step-parent, for reasonable periods of time as the employee’s attendance may be necessary, on the same terms that the employee would be able to use sick leave for his/her own illness or injury.

Practice Tip: Chicago, Cook County and Illinois employers should carefully review and update their leave policies to ensure compliance with these new paid sick leave laws. Such employers should also train managers to ensure that they are complying with their obligations under these laws. Finally, employers should post notice of employees’ rights under the Chicago and Cook County ordinances and provide written notice to their employees when the ordinances go into effect on 7/1/17.

Chicago, Illinois 312-377-1501 | Crown Point, Indiana 219-488-2590

Chicago, Illinois


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