It’s no secret that paid sick leave has become a hot button topic and a somewhat divisive issue. It’s a common subject among politicians and we are hearing more and more as the election season intensifies. Over the last 2 years, we’ve seen state laws pass in California, Massachusetts and Oregon, while cities from New Jersey to Washington have enacted local ordinances. Just last week Santa Monica, CA joined in as the latest municipality to require private businesses to provide paid sick leave.
Having just experienced a fairly dramatic and very public, example of what happens when sick employees and food service employers intersect, corporations are now getting in on the discussion. We’re sure you’ve heard by now that one of our nation’s beloved burrito chains, Chipotle, was recently hit with multiple food safety complaints which are believed to have sickened at least 500 people in 13 states. While the exact source of the issues remains undetermined, it’s been reported that at least some were tied to norovirus, a common, contagious stomach virus, which has some very unpleasant symptoms. While Chipotle had a paid sick leave policy (reported to provide three paid sick days), as a result of these recent issues it has instituted a new, more expansive policy that require employees to take paid leave for at least 5 days after the onset of certain symptoms.
Will we continue to see a steady increase in these laws, or are we at the cusp of something bigger? Should paid sick leave be the domain of the legislatures and city councils, or should employers, or better yet – will employers – take on this issue and find employer-specific solutions to the question of how employees – many of whom can’t afford an unpaid day off when ill – navigate the very real issues of taking a sick day?
If the recent bill filings in the 2016 legislative sessions are any indication, legislators aren’t trusting altruism of employers to resolve this issue unaided. In the current legislative session, Reed Group has seen over 70 related bills filed in more than 20 states and the federal congress. More and more localities are considering measures as well, including Tucson, AZ, Harrisburg, PA, Annapolis, MD, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. A paid sick leave bill that has made it through both chambers of the Vermont legislature is awaiting the Governor’s signature, with others pending in Washington state and Hawaii have made it through their first chambers.
While some employers are adopting paid leave policies in the absence of legislation, it tends to be those on the higher side of the pay scale, and for more benevolent reasons, like parental leave (see Netflix and Adobe), as opposed to paid sick leave. Employers with lower margin businesses, who often have public-facing workers have an understandable tendency to drag their heels when it comes to potentially expensive paid leave programs. It remains to be seen if other employers will heed the warning that all but banished the burrito from our daily lunch menu, or wait until their hand is forced. Some legislators have likened the issue to a broader public health concern requiring enforced standards, much like minimum wage and child labor laws. With the latest example of infected food affecting so many, might this argument begin to hold sway?
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