Mandated Paid Sick Days: A New Issue for Small Business Owners

employee screeningIn cities like Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, city councils have recently approved laws requiring that employers give employees paid days off when they are sick.

San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Connecticut have already enacted laws that require paid sick leave. In addition, two lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress that makes paid sick leave a federal requirement.

How does your small business handle sick pay? Some allow employees to accrue sick days according to time on the job. Others give a set amount of paid time off per year, and employees can choose to use it for vacation or when they are sick. And others don’t give paid days at all, forcing employees to choose between going to work when they’re ill and getting paid.

Many employers say they cannot afford to give sick time; it’s a burden they can’t handle until the economy fully recovers. Others are nervous about federal health care changes, and aren’t sure what their financial impact will be.

But employees and experts say that paid sick leave is worth the investment, because it improves morale, increases productivity and lowers turnover.

Employees feel valued by their employer when they are incentivized to get well before returning to work. Plus, they don’t spread their illness to others, keeping productivity higher. Keeping illness out of the workplace is particularly important in the food industry, but any company can benefit.

Nationwide, 66% of all small businesses (up to 499 employees) provide paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of those businesses with fewer than 50 employees, half do. And 82% of employees at companies with 500 or more workers receive paid sick leave.

The federal Healthy Families Act would require that workers be allowed to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. It would exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees. The BLS recently issued a study that shows that in general, workers take few sick days. Those in information, transportation, financial services and professional services take an average of four sick days per year. In the leisure, construction and hospitality industries, the average is two per year.

What do you think about the prospect of a federal law mandating paid sick leave? Or do you already offer this benefit to your employees?

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