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PTO policy

Did you know that effective July 1st, companies with one or more employees in Chicago and/or Cook County will be required to offer paid sick leave to eligible employees?

Regardless of your headquarters location, if you have even one employee working for you in the Cook County-Chicagoland area, you’ll want to read on. We’re breaking down these new city and county ordinances to help you understand if and how your company is affected. And we’ll wrap up by sharing five tips that could make compliance easier.


These new laws about sick leave began at the state level. On January 1, 2017, Illinois enacted its Employee Sick Leave Act. In a nutshell, the law requires Illinois companies who provide sick leave to allow employees to use that sick leave not only for their own illnesses and doctors’ appointments, but also for those of their family members. And to be able to use sick leave (and defend their right to do so) without fear of retribution or discrimination.

The Illinois law set an important precedent, but it does have some gaps. For example, it only applies to those companies that currently offer sick leave. Those who don’t are not required to start providing it. It also doesn’t mandate which employees should be eligible for sick leave or how many hours of sick leave they should accrue. It leaves those specifics to the employer’s discretion.

The City of Chicago went a step further, however, requiring employers to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave per year (for full-time exempt employees) or one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked (for non-exempt or part-timers). This applies to all companies who meet eligibility requirements, regardless of whether they currently offer sick leave or not.

Shortly after the Chicago ordinance passed, Cook County passed a similar ordinance that extends employee eligibility to include any employee who works two hours within a two-week period while inside the boundaries of Cook County.

Both the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance and Cook County Earned Paid Sick Leave Ordinance further extend sick leave usage to include public health emergencies and domestic violence incidents, including court hearings. They allow employees to carry over unused sick leave for FMLA and expand upon the definition of “family members” to include domestic partners, parents of domestic partners, guardians, wards, and foster children.

Both ordinances go into effect July 1, 2017.

Is your company subject to the ordinances?

If you’re thinking your company is too small for these laws to apply to you, think again. The sick leave requirements apply to companies with as few as one employee. Companies who must comply as defined by each jurisdiction are:

  • Chicago: Companies that have a business facility in Chicago or are subject to one or more of the city’s licensing requirements.
  • Cook County: Companies with one or more eligible employees (people working at least two hours in a two-week period inside the county).

Still unsure if the laws apply to you? Here are a couple Q&As to clarify things.

Question: What if we have one or more employees working in Cook County, but my company is headquartered outside of Cook County?

Then you must provide sick leave benefits to at least those employees working two or more hours within a two-week period inside the boundaries of Cook County.

Question: What if my company provides 40 hours or more of vacation time to employees, but not sick leave specifically?

Whether this type of vacation-only policy meets the sick leave requirements is open to interpretation. Consider changing your policy to a blanket paid time off (PTO) policy – that can be used for sickness, vacation, doctor’s appointments, school performances, you name it – and make it clear to employees that they are allowed to use their PTO for sick leave.

Question: What if my company’s sick leave is included as part of a blanket PTO policy?

If your PTO policy provides at least 40 hours of leave per calendar year that can be used for illness or family care, you may already meet the new requirements.

Which employees are eligible?

The Chicago and Cook County ordinances apply to both exempt and nonexempt workers. Full-time and part-time employees may be eligible, based on the following requirements:

  • Chicago: Any employee who works at least 80 hours for an employer within any 120 day period.
  • Cook County: Any employee who works at least two hours within a two-week period while physically present within the geographic boundaries of Cook County.

Excluded employees include:

  • Employees of Indian tribes
  • Public sector employees
  • Agricultural employees
  • Outside salespersons
  • Members of religious corporations or organizations
  • Students at an Illinois college or university who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Employees of motor carriers
  • Construction workers (who are governed by collective bargaining agreements)

What about leave accrual and usage requirements?

Unlike the Illinois law, the city and county sick leave ordinances do get specific about how sick leave is to be accrued and used. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Your current employees will begin to accrue sick leave starting on July 1, 2017. New employees hired after this date will begin accruing sick leave on the first day after their start date. This date must be provided to the employee in writing.
  • Full-time employees should accrue 40 hours of sick leave over the course of a 12-month period. Part-time employees should accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
  • Employees get to determine when they need to use the sick leave and for how long. If the leave is foreseeable (for example, for a doctor’s appointment), the employer may set requirements for advance notice.
  • Companies cannot require employees to find a replacement worker to cover their absence while taking sick leave.
  • Employers cannot discriminate against, fire or discipline an employee for using (or defending their rights to) the sick leave they are entitled to, but they can discipline an employee who misuses sick leave.
  • Companies may request a doctor’s (or lawyer’s or clergy member’s) note for an absence longer than 3 days, but they cannot withhold pay or benefits while waiting to receive the note.
  • Employers can require an employee to work 180 days before being eligible to use paid sick leave (though the employee would still be accruing leave during their first 180 days).
  • Employees may carry over up to 20 hours of unused sick leave from one year to the next. Or they may carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave for FMLA (if the company is subject to FMLA requirements) in the following year.
  • If an employer prefers not to track accruals, they can instead award sick leave in a lump sum. If this option is chosen, the employer must award the full 40 hours (or proportional annual amount for part-timers) up front.
  • Employers do not have to pay out unused sick leave when an employee leaves the company.

Overwhelmed? Here are five tips that might help

If you’re not a lawyer – heck, even if you are one – the requirements can make your head spin. To help you sort through it all, we’ve provided some tips that could make your compliance simpler:

  • Tip 1: Consider changing your vacation policy to a blanket PTO policy to address the sick leave requirements. Be sure it also meets the accrual requirements for full-time and part-time employees.
  • Tip 2: If you have employees in both Chicago/Cook County and elsewhere, consider implementing the same sick leave policy for all of your people to streamline and simplify things.
  • Tip 3: To avoid having to calculate accruals, grant 40 hours of sick leave up front to all employees on the eligibility start date.
  • Tip 4: Implement a 180-day waiting period before employees become eligible to use accrued sick leave. If the employee departs before their 180th day, you won’t be required to pay out unused sick leave. (This strategy may not work if you’re using a blanket PTO policy – check your state laws.)
  • Tip 5: Simplify administration of sick leave – and any other type of leave you offer – with PTO tracking software.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could set and forget your sick leave management policy? BizRun calculates sick leave accruals for you, allows employees to see how much sick leave they’ve accrued, and automates the leave request and approval process. And automates other HR tasks, like onboarding, promotions and transfers – all saving you time and money.

Don’t get caught flat-footed on July 1 when the Chicago and Cook County sick leave ordinances go into effect. You still have time to adjust your policy as needed and make a plan to automate the headaches of tracking and management.

Want to learn more about how BizRun can help? Email info@bizrun.com to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our HR product specialists.

Legal Disclaimer: BizRun has made every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information provided in this article. However, this article should under no circumstances be interpreted or construed as legal advice. You should consult with an attorney before you rely on this information.