Is Allegheny County violating city law with its COVID-19 leave policy?

by Charlie Wolfson,PublicSource

Pittsburgh City Council extended its COVID-19 sick leave ordinance last month, requiring all employers of 50 or more people in the city to give employees paid time off if they contract COVID-19 or need to care for someone who has. Workers employed by Allegheny County within city limits, though, are receiving no such allowance.

The county ordered all of its employees back to in-person work in July. Internal emails and interviews with multiple employees showed that county employees must use their accrued benefit time to stay home due to a COVID-19 infection, but the law states that employers must offer additional paid leave beyond existing accrued sick leave.

County employees may have less than two weeks of benefit time if they were hired recently or if they used some before becoming infected. The county’s thousands of employees, many of whom worked remotely during the pandemic until July, are now forbidden from working from home, including those with active COVID-19 infections.

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Several county employees confirmed that the policy has remained consistent more than six weeks after the return-to-office mandate as the Delta variant has continued to drive case counts up.

Joshua Lamonde, a business compliance specialist in the mayor’s Office of Equity, said the county’s Pittsburgh-based employees should be covered by the ordinance, and they should be afforded up to 80 hours of paid leave if they test positive or meet other criteria outlined in the law. He said he has done outreach to certain county departments, though, and that “there has been confusion” over whether the county as an employer is exempt. There are no exemptions written in the ordinance.

“They are conferring with their legal teams as we speak,” Lamonde said last week when asked how the county views the situation. Lamonde said his talks with county departments were informal outreach, not part of an audit.

County spokesperson Amie Downs did not answer questions about how the county views the city ordinance but said, “Throughout the pandemic, the county has balanced the safety of its employees with the need of county residents to receive ongoing services and support.”

She said the county offered 10 days of paid leave for affected employees through July, a benefit that had previously been required by federal law. Downs said the county has made policy adjustments to make accrued leave more flexible for employees to use and encouraged employees to contact supervisors and human resources in order to “navigate those options available to them.”

The City-County Building in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

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