A 2020 state proposal would provide paid sick leave for most New York employees.
The proposal would enact across the state what is already mandated in New York City; City Council passed a similar paid sick leave program in 2014.
The proposal, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined in his State of the State address last month, would require businesses to provide the following in New York:
Businesses with five to 99 employees would provide five days of paid sick leave
Businesses with 100 or more employees would provide seven days
Businesses with four or fewer employees would provide five days of job-protected unpaid sick leave.
Small businesses already providing paid sick leave could continue to do so.
Nearly one in four workers report that they have lost a job or were threatened with losing their job because they needed to take sick time for themselves or a loved one, according to a 2010 study from the Public Welfare Foundation. This especially affects mothers, who must choose between risking their job and staying home to care for an ill child.
The state argues the lack of paid sick leave creates a ripe environment for employees showing up sick to work. Of food industry workers surveyed in 2015, more than half go to work sick because they’re worried about income or supporting their coworkers, according to the Center for Research and Public Policy.
“The implementation of guaranteed paid sick leave echoes the promise of a secure and thriving workforce,” read a statement from Cuomo's 2020 State of the State book.
Small businesses bristle
Mandated paid sick leave is a benefit to employees, but many small businesses already encourage employees to stay home if they’re ill, said Anthony Figliola, who runs grassroots group Concerned Parents of New York, which is committed to helping parents learn about government news that affects them. He works for Empire Government Strategies, a lobbying firm in Albany.
“It’s going to be great for workers, but an additional burden on the employers,” said Figliola. “They don’t want the government telling them to do what they’re already doing.”
Cuomo is assuming that most small business owners mistreat their employees already and must be forced to fall in line, but that’s not the reality, said Jose Abarca, who co-owns Lulu Taqueria & Bar in Fairport, near Rochester, and has been working in the food industry in the Rochester area for more than 30 years.
While bad actors in the industry tend to treat servers “like Kleenex,” Abarca said, he and other restaurant owners hire top-notch employees who contribute to a stable working environment; “I look after them and they look after me,” he said.
He maintains a shift strategy each week that factors in the potential for unexpected illness or absence among the restaurant’s 12 to 13 employees (That number doubles in the summer months.)
If the state forces him to provide each employee with five sick days apiece, he may go out of business, he said. The governor should focus instead on working with small business owners to create better environments for their employees.
“If you want to benefit the individual, the one that cannot fend for himself, that’s fine,” Abarca said. “But don’t do it at the expense of others.”
The tension between employee health and business health is difficult to manage, especially for very small businesses, said Jan Pisanczyn, director of the Brockport Small Business Development Center in the Rochester area. The center works with businesses of all sizes in six counties across the Western New York area.
Take New York’s minimum wage laws, passed in 2016. Everyone deserves a living wage, but that’s going to hit a business’ overhead and will likely trickle down to customers as an increase in prices, said Pisanczyn. On the other hand, employers have to put extras on the table to attract quality employees in the face of low unemployment rates nationwide.
Business owners in New York City have been offering paid sick leave for six years. A law passed there in 2014 made paid sick leave a right for 500,000 New Yorkers at the time; nearly half had never had any paid sick days at previous jobs. Employees could also use sick time to take care of ill family members, including grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.