United Airlines sues the state, warns of DIA delays due to paid leave law

 

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A United Airlines airplane on approach for landing, just above the Concourse A-West Expansion Project at Denver International Airport on May 5, 2021. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

United Airlines has asked a judge to exempt it from Colorado’s paid sick leave law and warned of flight delays and cancellations at Denver International Airport if it’s not exempted.

On Jan. 13, the airline sued Scott Moss in a Denver federal court. Moss oversees enforcement of the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The law, signed by Gov. Jared Polis in 2020 and enacted at the start of 2022, requires employers in the state with at least 16 employees to provide paid sick leave during public health emergencies and allow employees to accrue sick leave over time.

United says it provides paid sick leave to its Colorado employees “pursuant to a complex array of collective bargaining agreements” negotiated under federal laws specific to airlines. “That federal scheme is the exclusive source of sick leave for airline employees, and so United is not and should not be subject to the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act.”

The case’s outcome could have an impact on United’s 9,000 employees in the state and, according to the airline, on its 500 daily flights out of DIA.

“United maintains attendance policies with the purpose of ensuring that it can provide reliable service to its customers,” its lawsuit states. “United’s policies generally require regular attendance to ensure that employees do not abuse leave privileges.”

“The attendance policies help to reduce the chances of any significant and unexpected surges in employee absences,” the airline added, “which can have a severe impact on flight operations, including flight cancellations and delays.”

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In August 2022, Denver7 reported that an anonymous United employee was required to work several shifts while recovering from COVID-19. The television station did not say whether the employee worked at DIA or United’s massive training facility in Central Park.

Moss told Denver7 then that airlines are not exempt from the paid leave law, which is often abbreviated as HFWA. He said, “As of now, there are virtually no exceptions except for employees of the federal government or certain railroad-related employees.”

United disagrees and it’s not alone. Southwest Airlines filed a similar federal lawsuit last May, noting it already offers paid leave and warning of delays at DIA if it’s forced to comply with the state law. A motion by Moss to have the lawsuit thrown out is pending.

United, like Southwest, says its employees would gain little under the paid leave law.

“The burdens imposed on United, the traveling public and the national economy from application of the HFWA,” it wrote, “substantially outweigh any putative local benefit it may provide.”

 

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A United Airlines airplane on approach for landing, just above the Concourse A-West Expansion Project at Denver International Airport on May 5, 2021. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The company, which employs 9,000 Coloradans and moves 500 flights out of the airport daily, says it’s exempt from a recent state law.

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