Local Politics

Bill would guarantee paid sick leave

Posted February 18, 2009 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

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— A bill introduced in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday would provide paid sick leave for the more than 1 million workers statewide who do not have it.

About 1.6 million workers in the state do not have paid sick leave, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forty-two percent of those workers are in the private sector.



The bill would guarantee all workers up to 56 hours, or seven eight-hour days, of paid sick time per year. Employers with fewer than 10 workers would have to provide up to 32 hours of paid sick time.

Workers would earn an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours' work.

Advocates with the North Carolina Justice Center say people coming to work while sick is a cost to public health.

“The folks who disproportionately lack paid sick days are the very folks who are cooking our food and serving it to us … working in hospitals and doctors' offices and in our child care centers taking care of our kids,” said NC Paid Sick Days Campaign coordinator Louisa Warren, who is also with the N.C. Justice Center.

The Justice Center is among more than 30 groups, including AARP North Carolina and ACORN North Carolina, that support the bill.

Paul Stone, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said his group opposes the bill. The costs to provide paid sick leave to all employees would ultimately hurt businesses like restaurants and hotels, which operate on thin profit margins, particularly in these tough economic times, Stone said.

Brett McGinnis, a bartender for nearly 20 years, said he has never had a day of paid sick leave.

“You basically find somebody to cover your shift and hope that it doesn’t last for more than a couple of days,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis works at newly opened restaurant, The Flying Biscuit Café, in Raleigh, which employs about 50 people.

“We allow them to call off. We just don’t pay them,” The Flying Biscuit Café part-owner Todd Keller said.

Keller thinks the bill is a good idea but will ultimately hurt a lot of small businesses.

“Morally, yes, I would love to be able to offer my employees those kinds of benefits. It’d be great. They deserve it. But financially, I don’t think it’s possible,” Keller said.

Keller said he'd have to pass the costs on to customers by raising prices.

Advocates say offering paid sick days would benefit the employer by making employees more loyal and more productive when they have time to recover.

The proposed bill covers people in incorporated businesses.

The bill would not cover babysitters, lawn mowers or housekeepers unaffiliated with a corporation. Agricultural workers would also not be guaranteed paid sick leave.

Nurse’s aides and hospice care workers would be covered because their health directly affects the health of their patients.