County commissioners in court over paid sick leave law

Audrey Caro Gomez

Linn County and eight other counties will know within 30 days if their complaint against the state regarding the new paid sick leave law will be dismissed.

Attorneys for both sides appeared before Judge Daniel Murphy in an hour-long hearing on Nov. 23 in Linn County Circuit Court.

Oregon’s paid sick leave law, which was passed in 2015 and went into effect Jan. 1, applies to employers who have 10 or more employees, with exception of Portland where the threshold is 6.

Under the law, full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers accrue sick time, according to the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

“The fundamental issue in this case is not whether the paid sick leave law is constitutional or not, said Nathan Rietmann, of Rietmann & Rietmann, LLP.

“The issue is not whether the state has the authority to mandate provision of paid sick leave to employees. The state clearly has the authority.”

The question, he said, is whether the state can mandate it without paying for it.

The county claims that under Article XI, section 15 of the Oregon constitution it is not required to comply with the paid sick leave law because it “compels Plaintiffs to expend money on a new program or increases a level of service for an existing program without providing Plaintiff’s constitutionally ade-quate reimbursement.”

“Paid sick leave is compensation,” said Sarah Weston, attorney for Brad Avakian, BOLI commissioner. “Compensating employees for the work they do is not providing them a service, it’s paying them.”

Because paid sick leave is not a program, it is not covered by the provision, she said.

Rietmann said the mandate is a plan.

“Oregon’s mandatory sick leave law requires local governments to establish a system for providing paid sick leave to their employees,” Rietmann said.

The provision defines program as “a program or project imposed by enactment of the Legislative Assembly or by rule or order of a state agency under which a local government must provide administrative, financial, social, health or other specified services to persons, government agencies or to the public generally.”

In September, Dave Alderman, Linn County accounting officer, filed a declaration in support of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

He said he is responsible for managing the accounting department and has “functional supervision over payroll, the comprehensive annual financial report and the financial audit, among other duties.

The county has taken actions to implement the new law, he said.

“We have modified our payroll system to meet the requirements of the new law, which increased the number of employees we accrue and track sick leave for by 154 employees,” Alderman said. “In order to comply with the new sick law, we had to plan and implement a new procedure to track and set up non-employees in our payroll system when staffing is done through temporary staffing agencies.”

This process added several hours each month to payroll staff’s workload, he added.

Staff used the actual number of hours worked by part-time hourly staff in 2015 to calculate hours that would have been accrued, according to the document. The result was an additional 1,725 hours, with a value of $41,067.

“This amount is well above one-hundredth of one percent of the county’s 2016-2017 budget,” Alderman said.

While Murphy said he would decide on the state’s motion to dismiss by Dec. 23, he scheduled another hearing date “just in case.”

The next court date is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 29.