Employers scramble to understand sick leavelaw

San Francisco will be the first city in the country to require all employers to provide paid sick leave when the voter-approved law goes info effect Feb. 5, which has city officials and business owners scrambling to determine the details of how the new law will be implemented.

Passed by 61 percent of city voters, San Francisco’s new sick leave ordinance requires that employers with 10 or fewer workers to offer as many as five paid sick days per year per employee and larger employers to pay for up to nine days per year.

Employees accrue sick days based on a formula that provides one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. An employee can use the time to take care of personal medical needs, as well as to care for a sick family member or other designee.

This week, members of San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce — which opposed the measure — met with Donna Levitt, the head of The City’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, to clarify how the new law would be implemented.

Levitt said educating employers on how to comply with the law will be a challenge, particularly since The City is, at the same time, working to get the word out that there’s a new law that will require most businesses to pay for employee health care.

The close timing of the two ordinances have some local business owners thinking the laws are one and the same, said Scott Hauge, founder of San Francisco Small Business Advocates.

“There’s mass confusion,” Hauge said. “Our position is, while we may have some problems with it, at least tell us how to comply.”

Details of the law that are still being worked out include whether an employer can require an employee to prove they used their sick days for a medical need, how to calculate paid sick days for salaried employees or those who work on commission and don’t track hours; and whether nonbusiness owners who employ a nanny orother household help are required to provide the paid sick leave.

Even The City, San Francisco’s largest employer, is looking into its compliance requirements, Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda said. The law is expected to add $9.3 million annually to The City’s payroll costs, according to the City Controller’s Office, for groups of workers who are not provided paid sick leave, including in-home service providers to seniors and disabled persons, election workers, and seasonal Recreation and Park employees.

Stephen Cornell, owner of Brownies Hardware, said that although he already provides his 12 full-time employees with discretionary paid time off that can be used for vacations, sick days or other personal needs, that it’s another cost that forces him to charge more money for his products and makes his business less competitive.

Still, he considers himself lucky: other small businesses will not succeed in San Francisco, he predicted, due to The City’s higher minimum wage and now the double financial hit of having to pay for employees’ health care as well as sick days.

While the mandated health care legislation has been hit with a lawsuit from San Francisco’s restaurant association, there’s been no move yet from any city business organizations to mount a legal challenge against the paid sick leave law, said Jim Lazarus, the vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

beslinger@examiner.com

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