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Seattle Could Require Businesses to Offer Paid Sick Days

June 22, 2011

SEATTLE - Businesses would be required to allow their workers to accrue paid sick time, under a new ordinance to be considered by the Seattle City Council this summer.

One in four health-care workers, more than half of retail workers and almost 80 percent in the restaurant and hotel industry - all of whom deal with the public - get no paid time off when they are ill, according to the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce. The coalition, made up of more than 70 health-care, labor and nonprofit groups, presented the proposal to the city.

Some small companies, such as Kohl Construction, already offer paid time off. Owner Paul Kohl sees it as a health concern.

"Yeah I do, and it's also better for the guys. You can definitely say, 'Hey, are you feeling bad? Don't come in.' You don't want other people to get sick. We're working a lot of times in people's homes, and with coworkers. it's pretty well been documented how sickness spreads, from one to the next."

The chief complaint employers have about paid sick leave is its cost, particularly to small businesses. At the Perennial Tea Room, Julie Rosanoff explains that a worker calling in sick means paying two people: the one who's ill and the one replacing him or her. Still, she sees it as the right thing to do.

"Everybody deserves to be paid for days that they can't work when they're sick. It's a reasonable concept. The difficulty is that small businesses like ours have difficulty paying at the same level that other companies do, so we try to adapt."

Kohl says his employees appreciate the flexibility.

"Work essentially is like a marathon. You need times where it makes sense, there are days you're going to miss. What I presently do is provide days that are either vacation or sick days – they can be taken either way. That's just factored into my pay scale."

The proposed ordinance allows full-time workers to earn hours of paid sick leave depending on company size. It caps the amount that can be earned and outlines the situations in which it can be used. The plan is being introduced to the City Council today and will be debated this summer.

The proposal is online at seattlehealthyworkforce.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA