Paid sick leave won't hurt businesses

sick leave cupcake royale
Cupcake Royale has six locations in Seattle, where businesses are required to offer employees paid sick days.

Most New York City businesses, big and small, will soon be required to offer paid sick leave to workers.

The city is set to enact a law in April that requires businesses with at least 15 employees to offer paid sick days. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to go even further and require it from businesses with at least five employees.

Some business owners are wary of the proposed regulation. Not only would they have to pay the worker who stayed home sick, but in some cases, they would be paying a second worker to cover the shift.

But similar policies have worked in places like San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Connecticut -- without hurting small businesses.

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"Most employers want to offer their staff paid sick leave -- it's good for morale," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which has yet to take a stance on de Blasio's proposal.

And it's good for business. Restaurant owners want to ensure their servers aren't giving you the flu with your coffee, said Joshua Welter, a director at the Main Street Alliance.

But Rigie questions de Blasio's timing, especially since the existing law is already set to go into effect.

"We're just concerned about the smallest employers that are already struggling," Rigie said.

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Jody Hall owns a chain of cupcake stores in Seattle and was also concerned about an undue burden on the smallest businesses.

Hall already offered paid sick days to her 110 employees at Cupcake Royale when Seattle enacted a law requiring it in 2012. Although she's an advocate for the benefit, she was hesitant to support the law at first.

"We have a vibrant small business community in Seattle and wanted to make sure the ordinance addressed the ability of small businesses to be successful," Hall said.

She was happy to see that the law enacted a tiered policy, meaning businesses with under 50 employees are required to offer fewer paid sick days per staff member than larger businesses. And those smaller employers don't have to pay wages for any sick day until the employee has worked there for six months.

One year after the law went into effect, a study from the Main Street Alliance found no evidence that it had negatively impacted the economy.

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The same was true in San Francisco, where a similar law was enacted in 2007. There, all employers, no matter the size, have to offer at least five paid sick days per year (or nine days for businesses with more than 10 employees). According to a 2011 study done by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, six out of seven San Francisco employers said their profitability didn't suffer as a result.

De Blasio's push to expand sick paid leave is part of his larger agenda to address income inequality in the city.

And he's not the only one pushing those issues. Just across the Hudson River, paid sick day mandates have been recently approved in Jersey City and Newark.

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