Paid Sick Leave Is Blocked Before It Begins in Austin

by | August 20, 2018

By Katie Hall

A state appeals court on Friday temporarily blocked Austin's ordinance that would require private employers to provide paid sick leave.

A coalition of businesses has challenged the law, which was passed in February. The coalition sought a temporary injunction, and a state district judge denied that request in June. Friday's ruling is a result of the group's appeal.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals made no assessment of the merits of the law in its Friday ruling.

"The ordinance is enjoined from taking effect while the appeal is pending," the ruling says.

The ordinance was set to take effect Oct. 1. Austin was the first city in Texas to regulate sick leave; San Antonio became the second one on Thursday.

Under the ordinance, workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, for up to 64 hours, or eight sick days, of paid leave a year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees have a lower cap of up to 48 hours, or six sick days, of paid leave a year.

Business groups, including the Texas Association of Business, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Staffing Association, are among the lead plaintiffs that challenged the ordinance. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation is providing legal help to them.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has also joined the lawsuit. Paxton and the business groups have argued that Austin's sick leave ordinance violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which prohibits cities from requiring employers to pay minimum wages above federal standards.

"Leave policies are best negotiated between employer and employee without the imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate from the city that may not be in either party's best interests," said Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Austin's legal team has filed paperwork stating that paid sick leave is not a wage and should not be subject to the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

Henneke said Friday's order ensures the legality of the ordinance will be addressed before businesses are forced to comply.

"Without this stay, Austin business owners would be forced to incur significant costs implementing the requirements of the ordinance while its legality was in serious doubt," he said.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, the ordinance's sponsor, said the city could potentially prevail in court in September, and "working people in Austin could still earn the sick days they deserve starting in October."

"Paid sick days policies are common sense solutions to protect the health and safety of people in our communities -- that's why our law passed in Austin and now in San Antonio this week," Casar said. "Ken Paxton keeps pushing the same ridiculous lie that guaranteeing paid sick days for all is the same thing as raising the minimum wage."

(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas