Southwest Airlines files lawsuit against Colorado after being fined $1.3M in labor law violations | Business

Southwest Airlines is suing Colorado after the state ordered the company to pay $1.3 million in fines for violating the state’s labor laws relating to sick leave during the pandemic.

A March 18 citation from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says Southwest Airlines has violated “dozens” of labor laws mostly relating to the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which was implemented in July 2020 amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The citation found that the airline has refused to provide required COVID-related sick leave, as well as leave for preventive medical care or care of a sick child. Southwest also penalized employees for taking medical-related leave they are entitled to and has failed to provide employees with notice of their right to take leave.

“Rather than remedy its obviously illegal denial of paid sick leave once this investigation started, (Southwest Airlines) continued to enforce its illegal policies for the past year of a deadly pandemic, assuring that throughout all COVID-19 waves, from the original virus to Delta to Omicron, (the airline) left thousands of employees without the paid sick leave that Colorado enacted to protect public health against the spread of infection when employees feel compelled to go to work — especially in high-contact and high-traffic enclosed spaces like airplanes and airports,” the citation reads.

Southwest’s lawsuit says paid sick leave requirements in the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act directly contradict aspects of its “carefully negotiated” collective bargaining agreements with its unions and restricts its ability to monitor for abuse of sick leave. The suit also claims the act is a violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it “substantially impairs interstate commerce when a national, uniform system of regulation is required.”

The lawsuit says flight attendant absences in particular can lead to “significant operational disruptions” and that this is what led to negotiation of “generous sick leave benefits” in exchange for Southwest’s ability to require a doctor’s note after seven or more consecutive calendar sick days.

“The HFWA significantly interferes with Southwest’s enforcement of nationwide attendance and reliability policies and will lead to flight delays and cancellations,” the lawsuit reads.