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Airlines Cry Foul Over Patchwork Paid Sick Leave Laws

Imagine a situation where a flight attendant wakes up in Las Vegas, flies to Washington, and catches a flight back to his or her home base in the Midwest. In Washington, there is mandatory paid sick leave law for employers covering the time the flight attendant is on the ground in the state, but the flight attendant’s collective bargaining agreement also provides sick leave benefits. So how does the flight attendant accrue and use sick time? According to a recent lawsuit filed by a trade association representing airlines, it’s none of Washington’s business. The association filed suit against the state of Washington in February 2018 seeking to enjoin enforcement of the state’s paid sick leave law, arguing that it is unconstitutional, preempted by federal law, and imposes burdens on the airline industry. In April 2018, the union representing flight attendants filed an unopposed motion to intervene in the litigation.

The flight attendant’s experience is an extreme example of challenges facing multi-state employers throughout the country, where various state and local sick leave laws apply to any employee performing work in the jurisdiction, regardless of the company’s home base or if the employer already provides paid sick leave. “Although the lawsuit raises issues unique to the airline industry, it nevertheless highlights compliance challenges for many multi-state companies,” says Courtney Blanchard, an employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis. Blanchard has been tracking paid sick leave laws around the country, including the sometimes conflicting and contradictory requirements. She advises clients to continuously watch legislation that may take effect in cities or states in which they are active. For more information about paid sick leave laws around the country and compliance, contact Courtney Blanchard at or 612.305.7732.

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