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State court puts Austin’s paid sick leave rules on hold

Monday, August 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

As the city has stepped up work to inform and prepare workers about their rights under the city’s passed-but-not-yet-implemented paid sick leave ordinance, a state appeals court has put the measure on hold while it reviews the legal case against it.

On Friday, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals blocked the ordinance from going into effect as scheduled on Oct. 1.

The state of Texas and 11 business groups have challenged the city’s move requiring businesses to let employees accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year, arguing that requiring paid sick leave is akin to raising the minimum wage, a move that by law is controlled by state statute.

The review of the ordinance will begin moving forward next month, creating something of a murky picture for the city’s efforts to educate the business community on how to operate under the rules if they stay in effect.

The court’s pause on Austin’s regulation will also likely eventually impact a paid sick leave ordinance passed in San Antonio on Thursday that was similar to Austin’s.

Earlier this month a memo from Austin’s Human Resources Department listed the steps the department had taken since the ordinance’s February passage. They include developing a marketing and community education plan, holding a series of community meetings to develop an outreach strategy, publicizing the administrative rules for the policy following implementation of public feedback, and closing three fair chance hiring complaints since April.

Following passage of the ordinance, City Council voted in March to grant paid sick time to all city employees, including temporary workers.

On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that Austin and other cities creating similar ordinances were overstepping their powers.

“The minimum amount of compensation established for workers, including the minimum amount of paid time off, is a decision entrusted by the Texas Constitution solely to the Texas Legislature,” he said. “I’m confident that an appeals court will recognize that the law expressly preempts cities from passing different laws simply because they disagree with the judgment of the state’s elected representatives.”

The city’s legal department had prepared for legal challenges to the ordinance in the lead-up to its passage. Council Member Greg Casar, who led the push to create and pass the ordinance, said business groups had warned him during meetings and public comment on the ordinance that the city was in for a legal fight over the matter. Casar said he’s confident the court will find paid sick leave to be separate from the minimum wage.

Legislators are likely to discuss, and possibly take action on, the issue during the 2019 state legislative session as leaders in more cities around the state – including Dallas – are considering implementing their own ordinances.

“The temporary stay doesn’t indicate the ordinance is illegal, just that it is blocked while the court reviews it,” Casar said. “Some of the business organizations I and my staff met with said they were going to try to challenge this law on the concept that guaranteeing paid sick leave is the same as trying to raise the minimum wage. It’s frustrating but it is predictable that Ken Paxton and right-wing business interests would try to block this and not give workers the sick time they deserve.”

Photo by Euthman Ed Uthman [CC BY 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.

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