Published September 16, 2011
Business owners in Seattle just got hit with a new government regulation. Starting next year any company with more than four employees will be required to provide workers up to five paid sick days a year. Companies with more than 250 workers will have to give up to nine paid sick days.
Supporters call it a public health issue. Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata and others say sick workers, especially those in the restaurant industry who are the most likely to not have paid sick leave, often spread germs.
"It may cost some additional money," Licata said, "but you'll have a more productive workers who's healthy rather than sick."
Business leaders say the unfunded mandate will actually hurt workers leading some to be laid off and others to lose different benefits.
"When you have a benefits budget and you lay more costs on top, other benefits go away," said Seattle Chamber of Commerce President George Allen.
Seattle's unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent. A growing number of businesses have been forced to close. The city's mayor Mike McGinn recently announced his plan to make Seattle more business-friendly by cutting unnecessary regulations. McGinn has said he will sign the sick pay ordinance because in the search for jobs he wants Seattle to be in a "race to the top" not the bottom.
Interestingly, organized labor which fought for the sick pay law lobbied to be able to opt out of it. Unions were given the ability to use sick pay as a bargaining chip to get other benefits such as higher pay or job security. Non-union workers don't have that option.
Molly Moon Neitzel who owns Molly Moons Ice Cream supports the regulation. She started offering her workers sick pay in April when the issue first came up at the city council. Since then, her 60 employees have taken a combined 25 hours of sick pay.
"My employees aren't going to abuse the policy because they appreciate the benefit," Neitzel said.
Advocates also point to San Francisco, one of only two cities requiring sick pay, which has seen workers take an average of three paid sick days a year since the law took effect.
"In America, we really do have a work ethic," Licata said.
The Chamber of Commerce said it could support a mandate for three sick days, but argues this law goes way too far. In addition to forcing up to nine days, the ordinance calls for fines up to $10,000 on businesses that don't comply to compensate employees for "humiliation and emotional suffering."
The advocacy group Family Values at Work estimates nationwide 44 million workers do not have paid sick pay. There are also 14 million Americans currently out of work.