paid sick leave

Paid sick leave in Philly: Why, despite two vetoes, it’ll probably pass — and how it affects you

How many sick days should you get every year?

That simple question has caused a bunch of arguments among stakeholders like the mayor and City Council and the Chamber of Commerce and city government, not to mention major companies like Comcast.

In a nutshell: City officials have been pushing for years to force local businesses to guarantee that workers accrue a certain amount of paid sick days per year, but the amount of time — and what businesses should be bound by that rule — have been hotly debated.

The issue has taken center stage this week, as a paid sick leave bill passed through committee on Tuesday and is scheduled to be taken up by the full Council next week. The bill’s supporters expect it to pass. Here’s a breakdown of what this means for you, the city and employers:

So what’s the bill do, exactly?

The bill that’s expected to be passed would require that companies with 10 or more workers provide them with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked — meaning full-time employees would accrue five days of paid sick leave per year. Estimations made by City Council have found that between 180,000 and 200,000 Philadelphians currently work without paid sick leave. Around 1.4 million people live in Philadelphia, so that’s a pretty big chunk of them.

Proponents of the bill say that in addition to protecting sick workers, it’s an important mandate to protect employees who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence — these workers can use days off to seek help as they recover without worrying about missing a pay day.

Doesn’t this already exist?

Some companies voluntarily offer paid sick days to employees as part of a benefits package (city and state employees are required to get paid sick days), but there was no mandate that private companies do so. One of the areas where this ordinance was most supported was by employees in the hospitality industry.

Waiters, chefs and others testified before City Council that restaurant workers weren’t afforded paid sick days and so they’d come in anyway as to not miss out on the pay — potentially endangering people around them, as well as (yuck) people who eat the food in the establishment. Restaurant workers testified this week that without paid sick leave, sickness will run rampant in kitchens.

What else is in this bill?

Here are the specs:

  •  An employer may not require disclosure of details relating to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking or the details of an employee’s medical condition. However, for sick time resulting in two or more consecutive days off, employers may ask for a doctor’s note.
  • Paid sick leave also applies if you’re taking time off to care for a sick family member
  • You start accruing paid sick time after the 90th day of employment
  • Accrued sick time may be used in hourly increments or the smallest increment that the employer’s payroll system uses to account for absences
  • The bill excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, employees hired for a term of less than six months, interns, pool employees, State and Federal employees and employees covered by a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.

You’re saying there were people against this?

Plenty. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has fiercely lobbied against the action, especially as it represents restaurants, hotels and the like. A representative of the Chamber testified before Council this week, complaining that these establishments are at a competitive disadvantage when Philadelphia imposes mandates like this but surrounding areas don’t. (That could change, as Gov. Tom Wolf has said he supports mandating paid sick leave for companies with 50 or more employees.)

The Chamber hoped to compromise on the bill to bring the mandate up to companies with 15 or more employees (instead of 10); no dice.

In addition to the Chamber, Comcast was reportedly circulating a proposal to amend the bill to stipulate that companies may maintain their existing policies if they meet or exceed the city mandate. According to City Paper, city officials were totally fine with that, but no one knows why Comcast may have made the request.

But government officials all liked it?

Nope. Mayor Nutter, though a proponent of paid sick leave in some ways, actually vetoed two paid sick leave bills sent to his desk as he didn’t agree with mandates about which companies had to comply. Bills championed by Councilman Bill Greenlee (who also is the primary sponsor of this year’s bill) were vetoed back in 2011 and 2013 by Nutter.

At the time, Nutter said it was because he was concerned about economic recovery after the recession and was worried that mandating employers pay more for employee benefits would have a significant economic impact and stifle small businesses.

Since then, he’s changed his mind on the issue after convening a task force to study paid sick leave which ended up recommending that businesses with 15 or more employees offer the benefit. A group of people charged with investigating the issue in May came back in December to tell the mayor that he should probably stop vetoing paid sick leave bills.

This year’s bill, which was approved this week by committee, recommends businesses with 10 or more employees offer paid sick leave. Despite the lower threshold, Nutter has indicated he’ll sign the bill when it hits his desk.

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