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The New Chicago and Cook County Paid Sick Leave Ordinances – What Do They Say and How Do They Work?

By E. Christopher Caravette

July 12, 2017

Before July 1, 2017, in Cook County, Illinois, about 40 percent of private-sector workers (or about 840,000 people) were not entitled to any paid sick leave, and many risked losing their jobs if illness kept them from showing up to work. Today, however, all of that changed.

On July 1, 2017, both the City of Chicago and the County of Cook mandated, by ordinances, that employers must provide paid sick leave to employees. The county ordinance allows municipalities in the county to opt out if they so choose. An employer that employs at least 1 covered employee is covered under the ordinance.

Who is covered under the ordinance?

A covered employee under the new ordinances is anyone who works for a covered employer at least 80 hours in any 120-day period, and who works at least 2 hours in any 2-week period within Chicago or any municipality in Cook County that has not opted out.

Time spent traveling within a covered municipality (such as time spent on deliveries or sales calls) counts toward the 2-hour minimum.

Some specific employee exemptions for Chicago are allowed including agricultural employees, outside salespersons, members of religious organizations, students at an Illinois college or university covered by Fair Labor Standards Act, and employees or motor carriers.

Cook County exempts government entities and Indian tribes.

Both Chicago and Cook County exclude construction workers who are subject to collective bargaining agreements.

Ordinance Requirements

The ordinances require that covered employers grant covered employees paid sick time, which will accrue at a rate of at least 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. The maximum mandated amount of paid sick leave is 40 hours in a 12-month period. A 40-hour workweek is assumed for exempt employees (those who are not paid hourly). If the exempt employee works less than 40 hours, the employer has the responsibility of proving it.

Sick leave starts accruing on an employee’s first day of employment after July 1, 2017 (for existing employees, on July 1, 2017). A new employee must wait 180 days to start using the accrued time (this requirement effectively eliminates those who are temporary employees). Employees must be permitted to carry over up to 20 hours (which is half of the yearly allowance) into the following year for any unused time.

Under both ordinances, covered employers are required to post a notice of the employees’ rights at each physical location in Chicago or Cook County, as well as include a notice with each employee’s first paycheck (for current employees, the first paycheck they receive after July 1, 2017).

What is Not Required

Employers are not required to pay out accrued unused sick time upon an employee’s termination of employment, unless they are covered under a collective bargaining agreement that mandates this payment. Employers who already offer paid sick leave that meets the same requirements are not required to provide any additional paid sick leave. Existing paid time off or paid vacation policies can be used to satisfy the ordinances as long as the policy allows employees to use the time for illness as well.

Using Accrued Leave

A covered employee can use accrued sick leave under of the following circumstances:

  • if the employee is ill or injured;
  • if the employee is caring for an ill or injured family member;
  • if the employee is receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis, or preventive care;
  • if the employee is caring for a family member who is receiving medical care, treatment, diagnosis, or preventive care;
  • if the employee, or a member of his or her family, is the victim of domestic violence or a sex offense; or
  • if the employer’s place of business (or the school of an employee’s child) is closed due to a public health emergency.

Employers may require up to 1 week of notice for leave that is reasonably foreseeable (such as for scheduled doctor appointments). When the need for sick leave is not reasonably foreseeable, employers can only require employees to give as much notice as is practicable under the circumstances. Employers cannot require a sick employee to arrange for a co-worker to fill in for them during the paid sick leave.

If an employee is on paid sick leave for 3 consecutive days, the employer may require proof of the stated reason for taking leave. However, employers cannot require the employee to specify or identify any precise illness, injury or medical condition.

Municipalities Opting Out in Cook County

Many municipalities have opted out of the county ordinance requiring paid sick leave. Included among those now opting out are Arlington Heights, Barrington, Bartlett, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Elmwood Park, Hanover Park, Hickory Hills, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Orland Park, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont, Schaumburg, South Barrington, Streamwood, Park, and Wheeling.

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(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)