City's "Mandatory Sick Leave" Ordinance Sparking Many Questions

Turns out City Council 'mandating' that all employers pay sick leave benefits to their full time employees was the easy part. Trying to define exactly who is covered, and at what level they are covered, is turning out to be a lot more complicated than first thought, as the City's new ordinance is set to take effect August 1, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The Paid Sick Leave Commission, a group of citizens which has been tasked at working out the details of the new ordinance, is discovered that the devil is in those details.

The Commission is wrestling with several questions involving the rapidly changing relationship between workers and their employers, like, as Commission member Sasha Begum pointed out, how should the law handle people who work in San Antonio for companies which are based in other cities.

"Why doesn't it specifically say that this ordinance applies only to businesses whose principal place of business is in San Antonio," she asked.

Committee members wondered San Antonio law can force employers based in some other city to take action, and others are concerned that the law may dissuade companies in other cities from expanding to San Antonio.

Then there's the issue of who is an employee, and how much 'sick leave' pay that employee should received.

What about, for example, waitresses, who often make a 'salary' of $2 to $3 an hour, with the prospect of making plenty more in tips. Should the 'paid sick leave' a waitress makes be their $2 an hour salary, the $7.25 an hour national and Texas minimum wage, or the $15 an hour 'living wage' that the City and Bexar County pay their employees and require of employees of city contractors.

"This wage is you are a tipped employees, versus the minimum wage that employers are legally required to pay," Committee member Alex Birnel pointed out. "The ordinance is particularly ambiguous there."'

Some committee members expressed concern that if the decision is made to pay waitresses sick pay which is in excess of their normal 'salary,' these people could actually make more money staying home from work than reporting to work.

And, who exactly is an 'employee?' With the so called 'gig economy' in the ascendancy, how does the ordinance affect, say, Uber drivers, who technically don't work for Uber, and don't receive a 'salary' from Uber. What sort of 'sick leave' pay do they receive, and if companies like Uber are exempted from the sick leave law, does that encourage other companies to lay off their workers and consider them to be 'contractors.'

The growing use of contractors in the work force was also considered, in regards to workers who actually work for one company but report to work at another, which does the scheduling. Who is responsible for paying them overtime?

Begum was also concerned about the status of a worker who, say, works in Austin but is sent to San Antonio to work on a long term project. How are they covered?

"They spend some time in San Antonio and then go back to Austin," she asked. "How do you pay them sick leave but not pay it to other employees who are not transient?"

Another question involves the role of supervisors. Should a company be responsble for paying sick leave if, say, the supervisor who approved the sick leave has left the company. And for how long after an employee is denied sick leave pay can complaints be filed?

And questions are also raised about what constitutes a 'small business.' Under the ordinance, companies with five or more workers are exempt from the ordinance until August of 2020, while other companies must begin compliance this August first. But what about companies who, for example, expand their staffs around the Christmas holidays, around Fiesta, or have varying sizes of employee numbers at different times of the year. If a retailer has three employees in July, but twelve employees at the height of the Christmas rush, when is that company subject to the ordinance.

And then there is the issue of enforcement. A key concern of many small businesses is that they will have city inspectors looking over their shoulders, requiring them to hire auditors and attorneys and spend hours coming into compliance.

All of these questions will have to be answered by August first.

PHOTO; Paid Sick Leave Commission meets at the Main Library June 26

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