Airlines Association Challenges Washington Paid Sick Leave Requirements


By: Michele Haydel Gehrke

On February 6, 2018, Airlines for America, a trade association and lobbyist organization for the American airline industry, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington State against the Washington Department of Labor & Industries challenging the state’s enforcement of its paid sick leave requirements against airline employers.  On behalf of its members, which include carriers, Airlines for America seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to invalidate Washington’s new Paid Sick Leave Act and to prohibit its enforcement with respect to flight crewmembers, such as pilots and flight attendants.

Airlines for America is challenging the application of  Washington Paid Sick Leave Act to the airlines on the grounds that it violates the United States Constitution -- specifically, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Commerce Clause -- because the law also applies  to employees outside the state of Washington and has a negative impact on interstate commerce. The lawsuit also challenges the sick leave law on the basis that it is preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act because it negatively impacts carriers’ “prices, routes, and services.”

Washington voters passed the paid sick leave law in November 2016 and it took effect on January 1, 2018. In addition to establishing a statewide minimum wage, it requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked. The law applies broadly to Washington employers and employees.  It does not include exemptions typically seen in other state and local paid sick leave laws for employees covered by collective bargaining agreements that provide for paid sick leave, or flight crewmembers under the Railway Labor Act.  

Without these exemptions for airline employees, carriers will have to comply with a patchwork of inconsistent state and local paid sick leave laws, which will cause an undue burden on the airlines’ operations. This legal challenge is an important development for airline employers as they determine the best way to comply with the paid sick leave laws sweeping the nation, while still operating a network of flights and mobile employees crossing state lines. Future court rulings may provide much-needed guidance on these important issues. Be sure to check back for future updates as we will continue to monitor this litigation.