Effective March 29, 2021, Philadelphia amended and expanded the Public Health Emergency Leave (“PHEL”) requirements to provide up to 80 hours of paid leave and benefits for employees related to COVID-19. The ordinance applies to employers with 50 or more employees, and to full and part-time employees who have worked for the employer for at least 90 days. An eligible employee must also: (i) work in the City of Philadelphia; (ii) currently be teleworking but normally work in Philadelphia; or (iii) work for an employer from multiple locations with over 51% of work time spent in Philadelphia. The ordinance does not apply to temporary, seasonal, state, or federal employees.
An eligible employee may use PHEL if the employee is: (i) caring for oneself or a family member with COVID-19 symptoms; (ii) caring for oneself or a family member exposed to COVID-19; (iii) caring for one’s child or children during a childcare or school closure due to COVID-19; or (iv) receiving or recovering from a vaccination, including any injury, disability, or illness resulting from a vaccination. Subject to other state and federal requirements, an employer must provide PHEL for eligible employees before requiring the employee to use other forms of leave or accrued paid time off.
Employers are not required to provide the additional leave if: (i) the employer currently provides employees who are primarily teleworking with at least 80 hours of paid leave in 2021 that can be used subject to the same conditions and reasons applicable to PHEL; (ii) the employer currently provides employees with at least 160 hours of paid leave in 2021—though not specifically designated as paid sick leave—that can be used subject to the same conditions and reasons applicable to PHEL; or (iii) the employer enacted a paid leave policy on or after March 6, 2020 that provides employees with additional paid leave for COVID-19-related purposes in 2021 and can be used subject to the same conditions and reasons applicable to PHEL.
An employee must provide notice to the employer of the need for leave as practicable and “as soon as feasible” if the need for leave is foreseeable. Employers can require qualified employees to submit a self-certified statement that the leave was used according to the ordinance. Following leave, employees are entitled to resume work in the same position held prior to taking PHEL. Retaliation for use of PHEL is prohibited.
Employers are required to notify employees of this amendment by April 13, 2021 – 15 days after the enactment of the ordinance. A model notice is available on the City of Philadelphia’s website. Employers can satisfy the notice requirements by displaying the poster in a conspicuous and accessible place in the physical workplace or, where employees primarily telework, through electronic communications or a conspicuous posting on a web-based platform. Employers who do not comply with the PHEL requirements may be subject to civil action filed by an eligible employee. The leave requirements will be in effect until the expiration of the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Thereafter, employees are entitled to one additional week to use PHEL.
Philadelphia employers should review their policies to ensure compliance with the new ordinance. In addition, employers with less than 500 employees should determine whether they may be eligible for tax credits under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for any leave taken in accordance with the ordinance. Furthermore, employers outside of Philadelphia should monitor state and local developments concerning leave for COVID-19-related reasons, as a growing list of municipalities have passed legislation requiring COVID-19-related sick leave.
Lisa Smith, SPHR, SHRM-SCP