Legislation passed last month in the District of Columbia mandating paid leave for employees has some business owners up in arms, but their colleagues in California say it's nothing to get sick over.

In February 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the country to require that employers provide paid sick leave to employees. Workers there accrue 1 hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work. A cap of 40 hours per employee applies to workers at companies with fewer than 10 people; at larger firms, the cap is 72 hours. The Washington, D.C., law is similar, mandating that employees get three, five, or seven days of paid leave, depending on company size.

The cities and states highlighted on the map are leading the charge for mandatory paid sick leave for all employees. For details on advocacy in any of the highlighted jurisdictions, visit www.everyonegetssick.org.
Source: National Partnership for Women & Families The cities and states highlighted on the map are leading the charge for mandatory paid sick leave for all employees. For details on advocacy in any of the highlighted jurisdictions, visit www.everyonegetssick.org.

“This wasn't nearly as onerous as many in the small-business community thought it would be,” says Everett Collier, of Collier Ostrom, a remodeling company in San Francisco. Collier says that the concern among business owners as a group — not necessarily remodelers, but restaurateurs in particular — was that workers would use sick leave as an impromptu vacation or holiday, leaving their employers in the lurch. But Collier says that hasn't happened.

COMING SOON? Nevertheless, it is something that remodelers across the country should keep their eye on. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit advocacy group, some level of active campaign for mandatory sick leave is under way in 13 states (see map), with the majority of those well into the legislative process. Additionally, though there is no statewide bill in the Wisconsin legislature, the city of Milwaukee is expected to have a referendum on the issue sometime in 2008. Given the way other social policies — banning smoking in public buildings, for example — have rapidly spread from city to city, it's not unreasonable to expect that more states and municipalities will soon be tackling this issue.

The mandate could also come at the federal level — The Healthy Families Act was introduced in the Senate last year. If the policy change comes locally, however, the details will surely vary, making it difficult to predict with any sort of precision the impact on remodelers.

If San Francisco is an accurate model, however, the most significant investment will be the time and money it takes to ensure that your company is compliant. Jeff King, president of Jeff King & Co., in San Francisco, was fearful that adding the required sick leave to the one to two weeks vacation he already gives his employees could potentially leave his company paying too much money for unproductive time. He chose to include the mandated sick leave in a larger package of “paid time off,” giving his employees discretion to use the hours as they see fit. This is legal under the California law.

King must pay out the balance of an employee's paid time off upon his or her termination under this system, while the remodeler would not have to pay for accumulated sick time if he kept things separate. King also increased the rate at which his employees accrue paid time off.

Because he opted for a modified, more complicated method of compliance, King made sure to get an employment lawyer involved, and he urges others in that situation to do the same. “The penalties for not complying are pretty severe,” he says.