Airlines’ Legal Campaign Against Sick Leave Mandates Targets Massachusetts

Airlines’ Legal Campaign Against Sick Leave Mandates Targets Massachusetts

Airlines For America, a coalition of major airlines including American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, seeking to either overturn or exempt their industry from the Bay State’s paid sick leave law. The airlines say the law violates the US Constitution by seeing to regulate interstate commerce, a right granted only to the federal government, and has hurt their business specifically by leading to more employee absences, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnston reports:

Airlines already provide generous paid sick leave, according to the complaint, and closely monitor attendance to maintain safety and appropriate staffing levels and to keep flights running on time. But the Massachusetts law prohibits employers from disciplining workers for sick-leave absences and requires at least a three-day absence before medical documentation is required, which the industry group said hurts airlines’ ability to investigate abuse of sick leave.

The Massachusetts law, which went into effect in 2015, requires that companies with 11 or more employees provide an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, culminating in up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. But flight and ground crews often accrue sick leave in ways that can’t be easily converted into hours worked, according to the trade group.

Airlines for America has also mounted a legal challenge to the paid sick leave mandate in the state of Washington, in which it is making a similar set of arguments. The airline industry contends that due to the mobile nature of the aviation workforce, it is impossible for these companies to comply with state and local paid sick leave laws as an employee might traverse several different jurisdictions with different mandates in a single shift. Some of these concerns are specific to transportation industries, but other multi-state employers have expressed concern that an expanding patchwork of employment regulations will make it more difficult and expensive for them to do business across state lines.

Washington voters approved a ballot measure in 2016, which went into effect on January 1 of this year, requiring employers in the state to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours an employee works. Employees may use this leave to address their own or a family member’s medical care, to cover lost wages in the event of a health-related closure of their workplace, or to address matters of domestic violence. Arizona, California, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont also have mandatory paid sick leave laws, as do 30 cities throughout the US. Federal law does not require employers to offer paid sick leave, but the Family and Medical Leave Act entitles most employees to take unpaid sick leave without risk of losing their jobs.