Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Jeanell Parr, a human resources manager, attended an information session on the City’s new paid sick leave ordinance Thursday, seeking answers to all her questions about how it will work at her company.
On Aug. 1, many San Antonio employers will begin providing employees with earned paid sick leave in compliance with the ordinance. The session was the first of six that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is hosting across the city in the coming weeks to help employers learn to implement requirements of the new law.
The law means an estimated 350,000 workers will begin accruing paid sick leave hours they can use to take time off for illness, injury, or to care for a family member.
That number includes the 230 who work at the Bay Valley Foods manufacturing plant on San Antonio’s West Side, where Parr works.
City officials were able to answer some of Parr’s specific questions about how to implement the rules of the ordinance, but not all. She recently put the brakes on printing a new employee handbook, which had offered employees 96-120 hours of vacation time a year, until she could better understand the paid sick leave requirements.
The ordinance, passed in August and in effect since January, will require employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a yearly cap of 48 hours for small employers and 64 hours for those with more than 15 employees.
Businesses with six or more employees must comply by Aug. 1, though enforcement of the full ordinance won’t begin until April. Employers with five or fewer workers have another two years to comply.
Parr believes her company’s overtime costs are going to go up due to the absences allowed by the paid sick leave benefit. That will force the company to make changes to its leave policies in general, she said, noting that it will also challenge the way the plant operates.
“It’s going to be difficult to run a business if someone can walk off the line and take leave in one-hour increments with no notice whatsoever,” she said.
But every business is different, and no one knows yet exactly what the impact will be, said Andrew Himoff, executive vice president at VIP Staffing. Himoff has been preparing the staffing agency’s clients and its 350-400 employees for the new rules, and he recently created a two-page summary of the nine-page ordinance outlining the employer’s requirements as well as employee protections.
“Employers are still analyzing what the costs will be because no one is sure how employees are going to use the benefit,” he said. “Until we have a better idea of how employees will use it, it’s difficult to know what the costs will be. They can run scenarios, but we don’t know if those are accurate. It’s going to take time to sort out.”
City Council passed the ordinance in lieu of a public vote after a coalition of advocacy groups gathered enough signatures supporting a paid sick leave ordinance on the municipal ballot in May 2018. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the time that the ordinance could have benefited from a process that included business owners and other stakeholders, and he established an ad hoc committee of council members to set up the Paid Sick Leave Commission to do just that.
“The process should explicitly target business input and seek data and analysis regarding the impact of the ordinance,” Nirenberg said.
The commission, which is made up of hourly-wage workers, business owners, and paid sick leave advocates, began meeting in April to review and assess the ordinance.
The group met Wednesday to discuss the recommendations of subcommittees formed around definitions, compliance and governance, legal considerations, research and best practices, and implementation of the law.
As the commission comes up with their recommendations, the City Attorney’s Office is reviewing them and writing proposed changes to the ordinance’s language to clarify issues around how it will be applied and enforced.
“Each of the subcommittees is getting focused … to ensure that this ordinance has fewer challenges and objections legally so that employers can implement this policy effectively as soon as possible,” said Danielle Hargrove, a local attorney who chairs the commission. “We’re moving forward, doing it together as opposed to being on separate sides.”
On one side of the paid sick leave issue are individual employees and advocates organized under Working Texans for Paid Sick Time, which collected the petition signatures. On the other are employers who say the benefit could hurt profitability and should not be mandated at the City level.
Small-business owners are especially concerned, said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and some have told him they will need to reduce their workforces to offset the costs. “They are asking me, ‘What are you doing about this?’” he said.
“It’s pretty frustrating because – I’ll be honest with you – the Paid Sick Leave Commission is an implementation commission — their task is to implement the rule … not [to] iron out the details or make it more fair,” Perez said. “Or that’s not what I understood [the purpose to be].”
He said the business community is too far removed from the commission, so businesses “can’t provide any good input that would make it easier or less burdensome on the business community.” The result, he said, is an uncertain business environment.
That sentiment was echoed in a recent Dallas Fed outlook survey of manufacturing employers. “We predict there will be widespread abuses of this,” stated an unnamed owner of a local printing company. “Most likely, this will result in a reduction in the workforce to cover the cost.”
Hargrove said the commission is considering the impact to business owners and that over half of the commission is made up of employers. “So we’re hearing a lot about employer concerns.”
Jennifer Herriott, interim director of Metro Health, also attended the commission meeting and spoke about the upcoming information sessions. Metro Health is charged with implementing and enforcing the paid sick leave ordinance.
Herriott delivered a presentation to about 70 human resources managers and business owners at the first session at Stinson Municipal Airport on Thursday.
A panel that included Herriott, Health Program Manager Francisco Cantu, and Senior Management Analyst Annika Jones responded to individuals’ questions at the meeting. Some asked for clarification on the type of employees that are eligible for paid sick leave; how the leave should be accrued, used, and reported; and how and when employers can request a worker provide verification of the need when taking sick leave.
Herriott said the City has already posted information and a growing list of frequently asked questions online at sanantonio.gov/health and that Metro Health is developing workplace signage about paid sick leave, sample employee handbook language, and accrual spreadsheets for use by employers.
In mid-August, the Paid Sick Leave Commission will submit to City Council suggested revisions to the ordinance. “That might impact the ordinance as it stands right now,” Herriott said, though that might take several months. “So there is a possibility there will be some changes, but we don’t expect it to be repealed completely.”