Paid Sick Leave Vote Raises Legal, Liability Issues
Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Alan Thayer
Paid sick leave seems like one of those concepts on which caring people would agree. Yet there are warnings that local laws affecting interstate commerce can result in unintended consequences for Eugene citizens.
The public policy issue is this: Will Eugene's proposal help or hurt the people of Eugene? Before getting to that issue, however, there is the fundamental question: Does the city have the authority to act on a manner of statewide and nationwide concern?
The stakes are high for Eugene city councilors. They may be personally liable to repay the city for the costs it incurs in drafting rules, enforcing those rules, defending court challenges and paying challengers' attorney fees (when challengers win) if the ordinance passes.
An Oregon statute allows any Eugene taxpayer to sue city councilors who vote to approve the expenditure of public funds for a "different purpose than provided by law." If the Eugene City Council is not authorized to adopt a sick leave ordinance, the savings, investments and even houses of those councilors voting to approve the ordinance could be at risk. All councilors who vote to approve future budgets containing sick leave ordinance expenditures could be at similar risk.
So is Eugene "authorized" to adopt such an ordinance? Here is where legal minds may differ, depending on their point of view. Whether the city is "authorized" to adopt its ordinance may turn on how Oregon courts answer each of the following questions:
1) Does the ordinance violate the Oregon Constitution's "contract clause" - Article I, Section 21 - prohibiting laws that impair contracts? Court decisions in union-backed lawsuits challenging attempts to reform the Public Employees Retirement System confirmed that the contract clause applies to agreements between employers and employees.
2) Is the ordinance a compensation increase in violation of an Oregon statute prohibiting local minimum wages? The proposal requires, in effect, 31 hours of pay for every 30 hours worked. Stated another way, for every hour worked, employers must pay for 1. …