Urban Politics #309: Paid Sick Leave


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UP #309 – June 23, 2011

By City Councilmember Nick Licata

With assistance from my L.A. Lisa Herbold

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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PAID SICK LEAVE

There are approximately 190,000 people working in Seattle without paid sick leave.  If you are not one of them, why should you care? Because, if they get sick, they go to work sick handling your food, your groceries, or your personal items in your home while caring for your loved ones. And it does happen. One in four grocery workers report coming to work sick when they don’t have paid sick leave. With 78% of accommodation and food service workers, about half of retail workers, and one fourth of health care workers not earning paid sick days, chances are they are going to work sick. In King County, from 2006 to 2010 approximately 30% of recent food borne illness outbreaks (almost all due to norovirus) was linked to food handlers who worked while sick.

Given these statistics, as a member of the Seattle/King County Health Board, I felt that it was important to make Seattle a healthier city for our citizens. We pride ourselves as having a healthy environment, with our majestic mountains and vast waterways we embrace this image. And we strive to promote a strong economy within a sustainable environment by encouraging the development of green buildings. I asked myself, why shouldn’t we also make Seattle a healthy environment for our employees and the clients they serve?  That is why I am sponsoring legislation for paid sick leave for all of Seattle’s employees.

PAID SICK LEAVE LEGISLATION

On Wednesday, in my Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture (HHSHC) Committee we were briefed on the main provisions of the proposed paid sick leave ordinance that I am sponsoring.  The bill promotes healthy work environments by establishing standards for paid sick days, ensuring that employers provide a minimum amount of paid time off for employees to take care of themselves or their sick family members. If a child is sick, without paid sick days, a parent must decide on whether to lose pay to stay with a sick child, or send the child off to day care or school, where they may infect other children. Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have already enacted similar legislation.

I encourage you to view the committee discussion here (starting at 13.32) when you have the opportunity.    You can view the proposed bill here. A public hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, in City Council Chambers, City Hall.  At the next HHSHC Committee meeting, on July 13, 2 p.m., we’ll have a substantive discussion of options to consider.  If you don’t receive HHSHC Committee agendas and would like to, you can sign up here.

WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIONS?

I have received emails opposing this legislation for a broad range of reasons. Someone wrote that “After many years working in the private sector I learned that sick leave is almost always used for a fun day off.”  But most objections are not based on such assumptions; they raise philosophical positions, possible management problems or cost concerns. Below I’ve summarized the most frequent ones received and have presented responses that address them.

Too much government meddling? It was once normal for young children to go to work instead of school, for people to work from dawn to dusk without overtime pay, and for our food to be riddled with contaminants. Those conditions changed because citizens have supported minimum wages, food inspections, safe working conditions and other standards for employees and workplaces.  Meeting minimum safety and health standards makes for more productive and efficient workplaces and protects the general public welfare. 

Unfair costs to businesses that don’t already provide paid leave?   San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance has been in place since February 2007. An evaluation of it showed that since it was enacted, San Francisco has had a stronger job market than the surrounding counties and the state as a whole, including in the restaurant industry, which was most impacted by the ordinance.  In restaurants, the actual direct cost of providing sick leave will be less than $200 per employee per year, assuming $10 per hour wages, including an additional 25% for other employer costs, at the average San Francisco usage rate for the restaurant sector of 1.9 days per year. 

Won’t workers abuse paid sick leave? The San Francisco evaluation found that the typical worker used only three days of paid sick leave a year even though they have on average 9 days available to them after one year of employment.  Under my proposal, employers may require documentation for absences of more than three days and notice for absences as soon as possible.

We shouldn’t have a one size fits all policy. My proposal has flexibility built in.   Small employers with <50 Full-time employees (FTE), medium sized employers with 50-249 FTE, and large employers with >249 FTEs have requirements that are scaled to the number of FTEs.  Additionally some employers that already offer a “Paid Time Off” program will be in compliance with my proposal if their program meets the standards of the ordinance in terms of accrual and allowed uses.  Plus, employers who rely on workers to do shift work can allow for “shift swapping” thus providing flexibility for both employees and employers, particularly for businesses where the compensation model relies on tips or commissioned sales.

We shouldn’t discourage the economic development that results when established businesses come here or new businesses start up. Most newly-established businesses will have a two-year exemption from the Sick/Safe time requirements.  Surprisingly, two-thirds of the 727 employers surveyed in San Francisco indicated they supported the measure.  When employees come to work sick it takes them longer to recover and they risk passing their illnesses along to coworkers, resulting in lower productivity.  These workplaces have lower turnover, less absenteeism, higher morale and greater customer satisfaction.

Shouldn’t the Council work with the business community in developing this legislation? Over the past several weeks, the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce worked with a number of local small business leaders toward the shared goal of creating a healthier Seattle through paid sick days. The Paid Sick Days ordinance I am introducing is not the original draft proposal that was based largely on the four-year-old San Francisco law.  By working together, we have before us now a proposal that is unique to Seattle and ensures no one will be forced to choose between working sick or losing a day’s wages. If you’d like to read a summary, see here.

Some of the local small business owners who worked on this proposal include Dave Meinert (5 Point Cafe), Jody Hall (Cupcake Royale), Joe Fugere (Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria), Moon Neitzel (Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Makini Howell (Plum Bistro, Sage Bakery, and Hillside Quickie, BJ Duft (Herban Feast), Ana Castro (Salvadorean Bakery, Risa Blythe (Girlie Press), Will Friedman(Cozi) and Linda Derschang (Linda’s, Oddfellows, Smith, King).  I sincerely thank these progressive business owners for their leadership and I fully expect more businesses to be endorsing this new proposal in the coming days and weeks.

COUNCIL MEMBERS & MAYOR’S EMAIL ADDRESSES

Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov

Sally.Clark@seattle.gov

Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov

Jean.Godden@seattle.gov

Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov

Nick.Licata@seattle.gov

Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov

Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

Keep in touch…

Comments

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Comment from Erik Anderson
Time June 24, 2011 at 9:45 am

With 190,000 people working in Seattle without paid sick leave, and using your average of $200 per employee, that is $38 million per year. That is a lot of money to ask consumers and businesses in Seattle to pay.

And for what?

The Washington State Dept. of Health reports that in the past 10 years, an average of 58 food borne illness outbreaks occur each year in our state. In 2009 these outbreaks involved 324 confirmed cases of illness. (http://www.doh.wa.gov/phip/doc/phas/09inv/food.pdf)

You claim that “approximately 30% of recent food borne illness outbreaks (almost all due to norovirus) was linked to food handlers who worked while sick.” Statewide 30% of 324 is about 98 cases in 2009. Seattle’s percent of these 98 cases is about 10.

Your proposal will spend $38 million to prevent 10 cases of food borne illness. And that is if you proposed legislation causes a 100% improvement in preventing sick people from going to work.

Of the $38 million you say this will cost consumers and businesses in Seattle per year, over $30 million (80%) will have no effect on whether people go to work while sick or not.

A recent survey of food service workers reported in the Journal of Food Protection found that 19.8% had worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea in the past year. That means 80% are already not going to work while sick, leaving the 19.8% as the only ones possibly influenced by the availability of paid sick leave. (Steven Sumner, Laura Green Brown, et al., “Factors Associated with Food Workers Working while Experiencing Vomiting or Diarrhea, Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 74, No 2., 2011, pp. 215-220.)

As you say “Given these statistics, as a member of the Seattle/King County Health Board, I felt that it was important to make Seattle a healthier city for our citizens.” I would hope that members of the Seattle/King County Health Board would want to prevent more than 10 cases of illness when spending $38 million dollars.

Comment from Gary Tonkin
Time June 29, 2011 at 5:47 am

Sick level is a difficult issue for most organizations. On the one hand you don’t want your employees coming in while they are sick and having an entire office with the flu. But you don’t want employees taking advantage of the situation and taking more days then are really necessary. What is the solution going to be?

Comment from Steve Winston
Time July 6, 2011 at 6:07 am

If you look around Seattle, you will see how much retail space is available. Small business is precarious at best. The City of Seattle invested heavily in the retail core and still bears the burden of their investment in the Pacific Place Parking Garage. There is no guarantee that urban areas thrive.
This is no economy in which to be adding overhead to small business costs. It is already against King County Public Health regulations to work sick. The question is who should pay for the employee’s absence.
The employer already has to scramble to cover the shift. The employer should be the one to decide whether to also reimburse the employee. The Government should not dictate that an employer pay an employee for calling in sick. Even if they are rare, false sick calls are the most disruptive of all events for small businesses. The City of Seattle should leave this decision to businesses which are competing for employees and have a personal relationship with the employee. There are many ways to make the employee whole including having the person work the shift of the employee called in to cover for them or offering them another shift after the illness passes. The City should not dictate that the only solution is payment for not working. This decision should be left to the people who create jobs, fill vacant real estate and generate tax revenue.

Comment from Steve Winston
Time July 7, 2011 at 6:29 am

Part 2:

The assumption is that larger business will adsorb the cost of paying an employee sick leave. With Social Security, Medicare-Medicaid and Workman’s Compensation, the added cost of additional employees is already significant. The response of many large employers has been to avoid having employees. For example Home Depot and QFC use self-checkout kiosks. Banks cut back on the number of teller windows they staff and try to direct customers to their automated cash machines for deposits as well as withdrawals. Many fast food chains use both automation and student labor.

ISpain, the country we most do business with, has huge employer funded employee entitlements. As their economy faltered along with the USA economy, official unemployment soared. However, it is widely acknowledged that grey market employment provided has many of the “unemployed” with under -the-table jobs. These jobs do not contribute to tax revenues further crippling the economy. Within the Seattle city limits, I suspect the largest industry operating under this model is the housing industry (both new and remodeling). Other industries use contract workers to keep employees off-line.

In this economy, reimbursement for absences due to health issues should be left to the employer and employee since the trade off is likely to be fewer jobs and more unofficial jobs.

Comment from Andrew Cleary
Time July 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I am writing today to express concern about the proposed Paid Sick Leave Legislation.

I am proud of Seattle’s progressive culture and I want to live in a society that values workers’ rights and welfare. I want employees to get paid sick leave. I want employees to have good healthcare, vacaction time with family, and even so-called “mental health days”. But how will it be paid for?

Our small business offers fully paid medical and dental insurance for our full-time employees and have always given paid vacation time for all employees. That pretty much means we don’t make a profit.

We just crunched the numbers and found that if all 40 of our employees take 5 paid sick days per year we are looking at an increased payroll cost of about $18,000 per year (assuming we don’t add employees) not including increased payroll taxes. Last year we made far less than that in profit. So where is it going to come from? Employees will jump for joy when you pass this legislation, only to be told that we either no longer offer paid vacation or that they must start paying for half of their insurance premium. If we opt for the later, I predict half of those insured by the bakery will drop their coverage. Lack of coverage will be worse than no paid sick days and ultimately cost the city via hospital visits, etc. (By the way we already allow employees to use their vacation time on a day-by-day basis when they are sick). Or do we pass it on to the customers, adding a flat fee or extra percentage at the bottom of each check? I don’t see that going over well.

Again, I support this in theory. But businesses will need help paying for it. Perhaps someone needs to propose a City of Seattle Income Tax to fund our social programs. I would support it. I would also support a state income tax. But I know neither of those will happen.

Thanks for all that you do. But I don’t see this working.

Comment from Terry L.
Time July 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

I left my job at Microsoft after 11 years to pursue a culinary career, since I found I derive no satisfaction from working behind a desk. I’ve seen both sides of the coin, as I’ve gone from having some of the best benefits in Western Washington, to having absolutely NO benefits of any kind whatsoever.

I don’t understand the argument that people will abuse the sick leave benefit. First of all, employees have to accrue time off. It isn’t ‘free’ like many other places with benefits packages provide. According to the proposal, a service employee in a small business has to work 400 hours (ten weeks @ 40 hours a week) to earn ONE DAY of paid sick leave. I’m certainly not going to squander that time off to play hooky.

Secondly, people who work in the service industry are literally more apt to walk off the job in frustration than they are to call in sick for a ‘mental health day’. Many of these people have multiple jobs, since these jobs rarely pay a living wage (see Dr. Amy Glasmeier’s Living Wage Calculator http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/counties/53033 to see what we earn). Alternately, the people who do tend to abuse these benefits are those who feel they’re entitled to them, and take them for granted (e.g. office workers – I took a couple frivolous days off in my tenure at MS). I’m not speculating here. I’m speaking from experience.

In the five years I’ve worked in the food service industry, I’ve reported to work multiple times while I was sick. Twice I’ve worked myself to the point where I had to take extra unpaid time off to recover as I literally worked myself to the point of exhaustion, and those were the ONLY times I’ve called out sick in 5 years. Why? If I work a 40 hour week, I’ll make maybe $475 after taxes. If I call in sick one day, that means I lose 20% of my income, which means I take home only $380 that week. Never mind the fact that I have to pay for a trip to the doctor, and medication to treat my illness. That’s the best case scenario. I don’t usually work 40 hours a week during cold and flu season.

I’m luckier than most in that my wife makes good money, and I make pretty good money as a food service worker, but we still feel the pinch when I miss work. Thanks, Mr. Licata for proposing this legislation. It’s a good start in helping those of us who don’t have the luxury of being ill for fear of missed wages.

Comment from Jayson Hahn
Time July 19, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I see this happening a lot, but it’s not just the employee’s fault. I got the flu just about every year when I was young, all through my early 20′s. I would have to call in sick, than be told “you need to come in, you don’t have anymore days left” – so basically you are forced to work sick.

Not good news especially for those people who work around food or items that are digested by humans.

Comment from Doug
Time August 12, 2011 at 6:18 am

As a CPA who works with a lot of small businesses I see various different ways companies handle sick leave and paid time off. From my experience when a “small business” gets over 25 full-time employees they usually offer sick leave or include it in paid time off/personal days. As Terry L mentioned “employees have to accrue time off” they are not handed the full allotment from day one. Will there be some abuse for folks taking sick days for a “mental health” day? Of course. But there are so many negatives for employees coming in sick beyond stopping cases of food poisoning.

If there are proper exemptions for start-ups and very small businesses (under 10 employees) I don’t see how enacting paid sick leave will have any significant detrimental effect to small businesses.

Comment from Real Estate Agent
Time August 20, 2011 at 3:42 am

This article was really great. Thank you for sharing your ideas to us.

Comment from Bonrollen
Time September 6, 2011 at 4:42 am

Realy Nice Article. Big Thanks for Sharing it.
Regards

Comment from news
Time October 3, 2011 at 10:12 am

Fantastic article.I appreciate your informative post.Thanks for sharing valuable post.

Comment from appliance repair insurance
Time January 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm

As with most topics like this…Government, please stay out of the private sector. You cannot and never will legislate common sense. this is something that should be handled by the business owner. not elected officials. Please stick to issuing bonds for public sector work like repairing roads and bridges, That’s what you are good at.

Comment from Document Scanning Dallas
Time January 30, 2012 at 8:39 pm

As a small document scanning company trying to grow, this is just the kind of legislation that would stop us in our tracks.
I could not add an employee with this kind of mandate in place. I would love to offer sick days in the future but this should be up to me, and as profit allows. There are plenty of document scanners and document management workers who would be happy to have a job right now, regardless of “sick” days.

Comment from Web Design
Time February 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

I am proud of Seattle’s progressive culture and I want to live in a society that values workers’ rights and welfare. I want employees to get paid sick leave. I want employees to have good healthcare, vacaction time with family, and even so-called “mental health days”. But how will it be paid for?

Comment from serice worker
Time May 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

It turns out that if you are a union member and under contract the “first day pay” doesn’t apply. So everybody working in king county for a grocery store or other type job will be held to the contract; which is paid third day.
I would love a response.

Comment from egga creation de sites
Time July 19, 2012 at 4:18 am

Seattle’s progressive heritage should be defended, but also “upgraded” to today’s specificities, new and inventive funding opportunities need to be put into place so that the city can keeps supporting its middle class

Comment from www
Time July 19, 2012 at 6:26 am

A recent survey of food service workers reported in the Journal of Food Protection found that 19.8% had worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea in the past year. That means 80% are already not going to work while sick, leaving the 19.8% as the only ones possibly influenced by the availability of paid sick leave.

Comment from homepage
Time August 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I too am proud of Seattle but that doesn’t take away the economical challenges it is facing now. I’m just so surprised that the entire country, as well as our precious city is in turmoil. Like in Europe, I believe our whole system needs an overhaul to make sure everyone can enjoy paid sick leave.

Comment from Web Designer
Time September 17, 2012 at 2:26 am

Yes totally agree on all of the points raised and hoping to see Seattle go onward and upwards over the coming years now!

Comment from dating
Time November 2, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Hello. On the one hand you don’t want your employees coming in while they are sick and having an entire office with the flu. But you don’t want employees taking advantage of the situation and taking more days then are really necessary. What is the solution going to be?

Comment from Tinny
Time January 5, 2013 at 9:00 pm

As a small document scanning company trying to grow, this is just the kind of legislation that would stop us in our tracks.

Comment from Sam O’neal
Time June 8, 2013 at 6:56 am

Not so bad…

Comment from Ryan
Time June 13, 2013 at 5:54 am

I found great info here about paid sick leave which should be given special care since it involve so many lives and situations across the city.

Comment from Lookboard
Time July 31, 2013 at 11:38 pm

It turns out that if you are a union member and under contract the “first day pay” doesn’t apply. So everybody working in king county for a grocery store or other type job will be held to the contract; which is paid third day.
I would love a response.

Comment from Kurt Mansen
Time August 10, 2013 at 4:57 am

Interesting information!
Thaks to author for the post.

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