The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a new ordinance that guarantees paid sick leave for any person working in the city, even though some in the business community have for months raised concerns about the costs and possible lawsuits stemming from the mandate.
When the “earned sick and safe time” ordinance goes into effect next summer, it will offer a minimum level of paid sick leave and time off for public and private employees to seek routine medical care. It also allows workers to earn time to attend to the health needs of a family member and to address safety issues, such as domestic violence.
Aaron Sinner, an ordinance supporter who attended the council meeting, said it was a relief to see the ordinance pass with worker protections intact. Sinner was one of dozens of people who showed up to watch the vote at City Hall.
“I think what was nerve-wracking was what carve-outs and exemptions would show up,” he said.
When the ordinance goes into effect, people working at jobs in St. Paul will earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours on the job. Employers with 24 or more employees will be required to comply with the ordinance by next July. The measure will go into effect six months later for businesses with fewer than 23 employees.
Workers will begin earning sick leave after 80 hours on the job. The ordinance requires that they will be able to accrue up to a maximum of 48 hours per year based on hours worked. Employers must also allow employees to accrue up to 80 hours of paid leave when they carry earned, unused sick time from one year to the next.
Nothing prevents an employer from offering more leave.
Council President Russ Stark said the issue became “contentious” among some St. Paul business owners.
“Many of them are not happy about this ordinance,” he said.
Lisa Schmid, a labor and employment attorney with the Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis, said in an interview Wednesday that the ordinance will be “burdensome” to her business clients, particularly small business owners.
Some will find it expensive and logistically difficult to provide paid sick time. Schmid also said a provision that allows employees to sue over perceived retaliation for taking sick time opens the doors for some attorneys to go “trolling” for business.
“That’s a disappointment to my clients,” she said.
Ward 3 Council Member Chris Tolbert, one of the authors of the ordinance, said the measure is “really important.”
“It’s probably the strongest, for sure, ordinance in the state,” he said.
Minneapolis passed a similar sick and safe ordinance earlier this summer. It differs from the measure passed in St. Paul in that it allows employers with six employees or fewer to grant unpaid sick leave. St. Paul requires all employers in the city to provide paid leave.
Ward 1 Council Member Dai Thao said the ordinance cuts the worry out of taking sick time. During a council discussion just before the vote, he said business owners are able to take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs. That has not necessarily been the case for their workers.
“I think it’s right our employees have the same option,” Thao said.
A February 2016 study by Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 42 percent of St. Paul workers do not have paid sick leave. That percentage equals about 72,000 workers.
St. Paul employers who retaliate against employees who take the sick time or who deny employees sick time can be investigated by the city or sued in civil court.
The city led by example on the sick and safe issue. In January, the City Council and Mayor Chris Coleman extended the paid leave to about 1,700 temporary and seasonal city workers and interns who did not have sick leave as a benefit. They will be able to start earning sick and safe time off starting Jan. 1, several months before the ordinance goes into effect.