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Following Chicago’s Lead, Cook County Requires Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave to Employees


October 13, 2016

By Jeff Nowak

This summer, we reported that the City of Chicago had passed an ordinance requiring employers located in the City to provide paid sick leave to their employees.  Last week, Cook County followed suit, passing a virtually identical version of Chicago’s ordinance that will apply to all employers within the county. 

The same start date: July 1, 2017
The same entitlement: One hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked
The same carry over: 20 hours of unused sick leave can be carried over

Here’s what Cook County employers need to know about this new ordinance:

What Employers and Employees Are covered by this new ordinance?

Covered employers are individuals or businesses – indeed, any “person or group of persons” – that gainfully employ at least one covered employee with its principal place of business within Cook County.  However, the new law does not cover federal, state and local government entities. 

Covered employees are individuals who: 1) work at least 80 hours for an employer within any 120-day period; and 2) in any two-week period perform at least two hours of work for an employer while physically present within Cook County. 

How much sick leave must be provided and when can employees use it?

Employees begin accruing paid sick leave on the first calendar day after the start of their employment or July 1, 2017, whichever date is later.  At that point, an employee accrues one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked.  Sick leave is earned in hourly increments only – there are no fractional accruals.  The ordinance assumes exempt employees work 40 hours per week, unless their normal workweek is less than 40 hours, in which case sick leave accrues according to the employee’s normal workweek. 

Based on the specific language of the ordinance, employees may begin using their accrued sick leave “no later than the 180th calendar day following the commencement of his or her employment.”  In other words, so long as an employee has been employed for 180 days, they can utilize accrued sick leave.  Of course, employers may shorten this 180-day period and allow their employees to use sick leave earlier.  Employers also can require that employees use sick leave in four-hour increments.

Are there caps on the amount of sick leave an employee can accrue?  And can it be carried over to a following year?

Earned sick leave is capped at 40 hours for each 12-month period, and employees may carry over up to 20 hours of unused sick leave to the next 12-month period.  Moreover, employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act must allow employees to carry over 40 hours of accrued sick leave.

For what reasons can an employee use sick leave?

Employees may use sick leave in the following circumstances:

  • For illness or injury of the employee or the employee’s family member, including receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis, or preventive medical care;
  • Where the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence or a sex offense; or
  • When the employee’s place of business is closed due to a public health emergency, or the employee needs to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to a public health emergency.

The term “family member” is broadly defined to include a child, legal guardian or ward, spouse under the laws of any state, domestic partner, parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, step- and foster-relationships, or any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent or a family relationship.

Is an Employee required to provide notice when using sick leave?

If leave is foreseeable, such as for court dates or medical appointments, employees must provide up to seven days’ notice.  If the need for leave is unforeseeable, employees must provide as much notice as is practical. Notice can be provided by phone, email, or text message, though employers may adopt call-in policies if they inform employees of these policies in writing and its terms are not unreasonably burdensome. If leave is covered by the FMLA, employees must follow any call-in procedures outlined in the FMLA policy.

Conversely, employers must post notice of employees’ rights under this ordinance in a conspicuous location at each facility where any employees work that is located within the geographic boundaries of Cook County.  Notice about the ordinance also must be provided to employees at the time of hire.

Can the employer require an employee to provide a doctor’s note to support the need for leave?

Employers may require employees using paid sick leave for more than three consecutive workdays to provide certification that the leave was taken for a purpose provided for under the ordinance. Notably, employers cannot insist that the certification specify the nature of the medical issue necessitating the need for leave, except as required by law. Employers also cannot delay sick leave or delay payment of wages because they have not received the required certification.

We already provide paid leave to our employees. Do we even need to follow this ordinance?

If the employer has a policy that grants employees paid time off in an amount and manner that meets the requirements above, the employer is not required to provide additional sick or paid leave.  Notably, if the employer’s policy awards a full complement of paid time off immediately upon the date of eligibility, rather than through an accrual method, the employer must provide an employee with 40 hours paid time off within one calendar year of eligibility.

For unionized workplaces, an employer and union may agree to waive the requirements of the Ordinance in the collective bargaining agreement so long as it is explicitly stated in the bargaining agreement.

Finally, the ordinance makes clear that employers are strictly prohibited from retaliating against any employee for exercising their rights under the Ordinance.  Additionally, an employee’s use of paid sick leave under the ordinance cannot be counted for purposes of issuing discipline and terminating employment.

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