Workers in Austin, Texas will be eligible for paid sick leave starting on October 1, 2018, following the passage of a city ordinance Friday.
This means that workers in the city of 947,890 won’t have to sacrifice pay to recuperate from short-term illnesses, which will likely encourage sick workers to stay home rather than risk public health, and their own, by going to work.
As it stands, there is no federal paid sick leave requirement for short-term illnesses. In the absence of nationwide regulations, eight states and Washington, D.C. have legislated paid sick leave on their own.
In states where there is no paid sick leave, some counties and municipalities have enacted their own regulations. Austin is the first local government to adopt a sick leave policy in the South.
Federal government employees (regardless of their place of residence) get 13 paid sick days per year.
The mandate will affect all workers in Austin. Those employed by companies with 15 or more workers will earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a cap of eight sick days per year. Companies with fewer than 15 employees can limit sick leave at six days per year.
The new regulation in Austin will be enforced by the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office. If any businesses don’t comply with the sick leave policy, they are subject to a fine of up to $500.
A group of business owners opposed the ordinance on the grounds that it gives the municipal government too much regulatory power. Some fear that they will face unfair scrutiny if complaints about sick leave violations are filed to the city. Others are wary of the new requirement harming their financial stability.
Mayor Steve Adler tried to assuage the business owners by citing the positive experience of other cities who have enacted similar legislation. “I understand and I appreciate the concerns that many businesses have about the potential impact, but there have been lots of studies in lots of cities that have done this, and it just does not bear out the way some of the businesses are concerned, and I would expect the experience in Austin to be the same,” Adler said following the vote.
Proponents of paid sick leave laws argue that the regulations actually help the financial ecosystem. Because illnesses are inevitable, people will be invariably miss some work. If they don’t get paid for these days, they have less money to spend, and the entire economy suffers.
More importantly, the measure is expected to allay public health concerns amidst a horrendous flu season. According to Mayor Adler, “This is going to affect a lot of people in our city that probably are right now coming into work sick and probably serving food on days that they shouldn’t be.”