Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Paid Sick Leave Bill Introduced at State Level

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma announced a bill yesterday which, if passed, would require all California employers to provide paid time off to their employees when they are sick or need time to take care of their sick family members.

AB2716, introduced in the State Assembly last week, would make it possible for each employee to take one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours of work. San Francisco voters passed a similar measure at the local level in 2006.

“Six million working Californians today, representing 40 percent of our workforce, do not have any paid sick days off and this is unacceptable,” said Ma. “We here in California want to make sure that when they are sick they do not have to worry about losing their jobs, they do not have to worry about losing a day’s pay.”

Dr. Mitchell Katz, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, emphasized the value of such legislation that extends beyond the interests of sick workers.

“Many of the illnesses that beset people, including influenza, viral gastroenteritis, viral meningitis, are easily spread in the workplace, on Muni buses, in schools and daycare centers and restaurants,” Katz said. “From a public health point of view, people who are sick need to stay home.”

The bill closely mirrors San Francisco’s Proposition F, which was approved by voters in November 2006. The proposition established an ordinance that made it mandatory for employers in the city to provide paid sick leave to their workers.

The law’s success in the city was one of the reasons for a similar bill’s appearance on the state level, according to Ma.

“We have not heard of any businesses or business organizations that came out and said, ‘Prop F hurt our businesses,’” Ma said.

Although the proposition has not inflicted any substantial damage to his business so far, Phineas Ng – a co-owner of Tad’s Broiled Steaks on Powell Street – is worried by its potential to hurt the restaurant in the long run.

Ng said he was afraid that the law left too many opportunities for employees to abuse it by taking paid time off when they are not sick. In case such abuse does take place, the owners’ hands would be tied, according to him, since the law does not require employees to produce documentary proof of their illness.

The restaurant did not provide paid sick leave to its employees before the city ordinance was enacted, Ng said.

Eric Halladay, owner of SF Moto, a scooter and motorcycle shop on 8th Street, said that the only major inconvenience the ordinance caused for his business was having to augment the payroll process in order to keep track of sick-leave hours his employees accrue and spend. Instead of taking on an extra business expense, the store uses money that was normally designated for other employee benefits to cover the cost of sick time.

“You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip,” said Halladay. “A bigger Christmas bonus or a two-week paid vacation have to be eliminated or reduced significantly to be able to have this allowance available for the sick leave.”

SF Moto also did not provide paid sick leave to its employees before the city made it mandatory, according to Halladay.

Ma’s State Assembly bill, if passed, would mandate paid time off not only when a worker is sick but also when he or she has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Someone who works in California would be able to use the sick time he or she has accrued after 90 days he or she has been on the job.

The new bill would charge the state’s Department of Industrial Relations with enforcing the law it describes.

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi underlined the possibility of an impact the bill’s passage would have on the national level.

“California, like San Francisco, is very much a bellwether for cutting-edge and forward-thinking policy,” Mirkarimi said. “Washington hears California quite soundly. If California moves in this direction, this will begin to sweep the rest of the United States.”