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National News

March 27, 2013

Small business squabbles over paid sick time laws

NEW YORK — Two months after a severe flu season forced millions of workers to stay home, paid sick time is becoming an issue for many small business owners.

City councils in Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia earlier this month approved laws requiring employers to give their workers paid sick leave. And two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress that would make paid sick leave a federal requirement.

There's a great divide among business owners over the issue. On one side are opponents who say paid sick time creates financial and administrative burdens for businesses that are struggling with a still recovering economy and uncertainty about health care costs and federal budget cuts. Others argue that it makes for a happier workplace and encourages employees to stay home instead of coming to work and infecting everyone around them.

"It increases morale, it increases loyalty, it provides a much safer work environment," says Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets, a chain of four restaurants in the Washington D.C., area. He was already giving his workers paid sick time before the Washington City Council passed a sick leave law in 2008. It's particularly important in the restaurant business that sick employees don't come to work.

"It's gross. Nobody wants to have anyone preparing their food when they're sick," Shallal says.

A lot of Americans get paid sick leave, including many who work at small businesses. A study issued in July by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 66 percent of small businesses, those with up to 499 workers, provided paid sick leave. Among companies with fewer than 50 workers, half provided leave. Eighty-two percent of workers at companies with 500 or more employees have paid sick leave.

Lawmakers have been stepping in to get paid sick leave extended to more workers. San Francisco is widely believed to be the first major city to enact a paid sick leave law. The law, which requires that sick time be given to all workers, took effect in 2007. Since then, Washington, Seattle and Connecticut have enacted laws and Portland's City Council passed its bill on March 13. The laws aren't identical, but all generally provide for workers to accrue sick time and to also use it for family illnesses and some types of emergencies.

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