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Dallas Paid Sick Leave Mandate Blocked By Federal Judge

Christopher Connelly
Texas Organizing Project Deputy Director Brianna Brown (center) rallies supporters at the launch of the paid sick leave petition drive at Dallas City Hall in April 2018.

Now, no city in Texas requires employers to provide paid time off for sick workers. The City of Dallas can no longer enforce its paid sick leave mandate, at least for now. That’s after a federal judge blocked the ordinance requiring the time off while a lawsuit proceeds.

In 2018, San Antonio and Austin passed sick leave ordinances and Dallas followed suit last year. Then, both Austin and San Antonio saw their ordinances fall as separate state courts ruled them unconstitutional. Austin is appealing to the Texas Supreme Court.

A federal lawsuit was launched by two Collin County companies last summer to stop the Dallas ordinance, just before its first phase went into effect.

Starting last summer, workers at medium and large companies started earning up to eight hours of sick leave a year, if their employers complied with the ordinance. The mandate would have gone into effect this August for smaller companies.

The order from federal District Judge Sean Jordan puts an end to that. The Trump appointee and former Texas deputy solicitor general, assumed office last summer. In his order issued late Monday night, he said the Dallas ordinance, “runs afoul of both federal and state constitutions and is therefore unenforceable.”

At a City Hall news conference Tuesday morning, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the city had been preparing to begin enforcing the ordinance, which is when the city could start assessing fines for businesses that fail to comply. Saying it was “active litigation,” Johnson didn’t comment further.

Brianna Brown, deputy director for the progressive Texas Organizing Project, said the move undermines public health and takes sick leave away from workers at a time when they need it most. She pointed to federal legislation recently signed by the president extending limited paid sick leave to some workers who contract COVID-19 as a means of combatting the spread of the disease.

“When this injunction happens in the midst of the pandemic,” she said, “it is not only on the wrong side of history but on the wrong side of now."

Before the mandate, a 2018 study showed 300,000 Dallas workers lost wages if they stayed home when they or their kids were sick.

Plano-based Employee Solutions and Allen-based Hagan Law Group brought the suit to stop the mandate, arguing that their state and federal constitutional rights were violated by the ordinance, since they’d have to provide sick leave to their Dallas-based employees. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved to add the state of Texas as a plaintiff in the suit, arguing that only the state, and not cities, could require bosses to offer paid time off.

“Now is not the time for governments to force burdensome regulations upon small business,” said Rob Henneke, legal director for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is backing the lawsuits.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.