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Austin’s Sick Pay Law: 4 Questions Employers Should Ask

Construction worker coughs into his hand

At face value, offering paid sick leave for full-time employees seems like a great idea. Who would be opposed to the city mandating it? The Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Austin Technology Council are, for starters. That’s because the issue is much more nuanced than meets the eye. Opposition isn’t necessarily about whether offering paid sick leave is a good idea, but whether it should be mandated at the city level and, additionally, with blanket requirements across all industries and sectors.

If you’re an employer in Austin, below are four questions you should be asking.

  1. Does a blanket law make sense?

Austin Technology Council CEO Barbary Brunner told the Austin Business Journal that her organization is against the city adopting standardized, mandatory sick leave requirements.

In her own words: “While I appreciate there may be issues with some business sectors, tech companies develop PTO, sick leave and vacation policies that best suit their innovative environments and businesses, and they are already very favorable for the employee. Most also have generous work-from-home policies as well. Requiring tech companies to adopt the same PTO policy as retail and service industries have may actually create a more restrictive sick-leave policy for workers in tech businesses….”

  1. Should it even be a municipal issue at all?

We found 14 states — including neighboring Oklahoma and Louisiana — have enacted statewide bans on similar local-level mandates. Why? Mandating paid sick leave at a municipal level can put businesses within city limits at a disadvantage.

As we told the Austin Business Journal, “the Louisiana legislature recognized that employee benefits like paid sick leave ‘comprise the most significant expense of operating a business’ and that requiring it from businesses at the municipal level can put those businesses at a severe competitive disadvantage. In short, mandates like this one are bad for small- and mid-sized businesses in Austin. It will become yet another reason to not start, keep or move a business here.”

  1. Can it really be opposed?

Austin City Council (led on this issue by Council Member Greg Casar) asserts that it has been providing public forums to collect opinions about a paid sick leave mandate, but those attending the sessions have found little interest in hearing opposing opinions about a mandate at all.

Austin Chronicle reports that, following the second stakeholder meeting on Nov. 16, Austin Chamber of Commerce Senior Director of Government Relations Tina Cannon was disappointed with how the sessions have run, calling them “less than productive. … I think the number one question that has to be asked is ‘Should this policy exist?’ And it has yet to be asked at any of these forums.” touted an online survey but, again, as the Austin Chamber pointed out in a letter to the mayor and council members, no question on the survey asked whether respondents would support a city-mandated requirement in the first place.

  1. What about the studies that prove a mandate works?

For every study that backs the policy, other studies prove it doesn’t work.  As we told the Austin American-Statesman, “Among cities with similar mandates, San Francisco employers report being forced to pass along the cost by reducing benefits and labor hours and still experienced a significant decline in profit — by 12 to 23 percent. Most Seattle-based employers saw no measurable increase in areas like employee morale or predictability of employee absenteeism — areas the City Council cites as important reasons for the initiative. In fact, among five studies examining the effect of mandatory paid sick leave laws in cities nationwide, four found no reduction in the frequency of employees coming to work sick.”

Time is running out to voice your opinion. If you’re opposed to the law, the odds are already against you in getting your voice heard. Contact your representative Austin City Council Member now, then attend the Feb. 1 Austin City Council Meeting where Councilmember Casar plans to introduce the drafted ordinance. If you’re a member of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Technology Council, or another organization opposed to the ordinance, contact them to ask how you can help.

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