Austin's Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Violates State Constitution, Appeals Court Rules

Nov 16, 2018

Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance is likely not going into effect any time soon – and may never.

A Texas court of appeals ruled Friday that the ordinance, which mandates that most private employees in Austin get six to eight paid sick days a year, violates the state constitution. Specifically, it found, the ordinance is preempted by the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

“This is a huge relief for our clients that the ordinance will not be going into effect,” said Ryan Walters, an attorney with the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who backed the plaintiffs, said the minimum wage law expressly prevented Austin from passing the ordinance.

"The Legislature has established the minimum amount of compensation for workers, and the Texas Constitution prohibits local municipalities from ignoring the Legislature’s decision," he said in a statement.

The City of Austin said it is reviewing its options. 

"This Court of Appeals opinion reverses and usurps the ruling of the Austin trial judge, who heard the case, weighed the evidence and ruled in the City’s favor earlier this year," a spokesman said. "Ensuring workers are able to take time off work when they are sick is simply the right and responsible thing to do, as many cities have already acknowledged."

TPPF filed a lawsuit against the city in April, representing several clients, including the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business.

After hours of testimony, the Austin City Council passed the measure by a 9-to-2 vote in February. Workers called paid sick leave a basic right, while some small businesses argued it would be too costly. It was set to go into effect on Oct. 1, but it was blocked by the appeals court.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said Friday he was not surprised by the ruling.

"The majority of the judges on this panel just lost their elections," he said. "I anticipated that they may be rushing out anti-worker rulings this year before they're replaced in January."

But if the case continues on for several months, the court’s makeup could shift in the city’s favor. Two of the three Republican judges who heard the case lost re-election to Democrats. Those new judges start in January.

If the ordinance survives in court, though, it will likely face a fight in the Legislature. House Rep. Matt Krause has filed a bill prohibiting cities from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave days.

For now, the case is headed to the lower court for a full trial. The appeals court ordered the lower court to issue a temporary injunction, putting a hold on the law from going into effect while the case is heard.

This post has been updated.