Austin Paid Sick Leave Showdown Begins Today

Round One in the Austin paid sick leave legislative battle begins at today’s City Council meeting. Agenda item #49 asks the Council to “approve an ordinance establishing earned sick time for private employers, creating a civil penalty, and creating an offense.” Just a hunch, but I suspect the debate will be intense.

The draft ordinance would allow private sector employees who work at least 80 hours in a calendar year within the city to accrue PSL at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, to a maximum accrual of 64 hours annually. Accrued time may be used for the employee’s own or a family member’s illness, injury, health condition or preventive care or for an absence related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking involving the employee or a family member.

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Proponents want the proposed ordinance approved, as is. However, another council member intends to propose a substitute ordinance narrowing the paid sick leave benefit, according to one report.

If the City Council approves a PSL ordinance, the next round is likely to be at the state legislature.  An Austin state representative predicted that the state would react to any Austin PSL ordinance by enacting a law preempting local PSL laws, according to that report.

A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research projected that the ordinance would save employers more than $38 million by reducing turnover and flu contagion at the workplace. More than $37 million of those savings comes from a projected 5.2% reduction in the employee turnover rate, according to the report.

The turnover rate projection got my attention because a September 2016 study of the first two years of the New York City Earned Sick Time Act reported that “[v]irtually no employers reported any change in turnover” as a result of that law. Concerning contagion caused by sick employees reporting to work, the study found that “90 percent of employer respondents reported no change in the number of employees coming to work sick, with equal numbers (five percent) reporting a decrease and an increase.” That study, entitled “No Big Deal: The Impact of New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law on Employers,” was done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research of The City University of New York.

Reconciling the projected significant savings to Austin employers with the absence of any savings to New York City employers is obviously a challenge. As my readers know, I am not opposed to paid sick days. The challenge is that we have a welter of often conflicting paid sick leave laws. The compliance challenge for multi-location employers is beyond significant. To the extent the projected benefits to employers should make the effort worthwhile, the benefits are elusive at best, and perhaps non-existent, as in New York City.