Paid Sick Leave Commission Nears Final Draft of Ordinance

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Paid Sick Leave Commission is in the final stages of producing a draft for recommendations to City Council.

It may be up to employees to decide what kind of proof they will provide to their boss when requesting paid sick leave under San Antonio’s new ordinance, which may also get a new, more all-encompassing name.

That’s according to discussions the Paid Sick Leave Commission had Wednesday during one of their last few meetings ahead of a deadline to provide their recommendations to the City Council’s ad hoc committee.

With only two more meetings scheduled, Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, before the commission presents a final draft to the council, commission Chair Danielle Hargrove held a 45-minute-long closed executive session Wednesday during which she said no actions were taken.

When the open session resumed, she said the commission would try to complete a review of the entire red-lined ordinance during the scheduled two hours.

By the time the meeting adjourned, it had covered two main topics – how employers can request verification of the need for sick leave and whether the ordinance should define what constitutes abuse of the benefit.

The stakeholder group made plans to complete its review of the rest of the ordinance on Friday as well as discuss related information coming from the research subcommittee, which is chaired by Diane Sanchez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve been asked point-blank: How do we know San Antonio really needs this?” Hargrove said, adding that she hoped the research will support not only the need for the ordinance, but also describe the potential economic impact to San Antonio, and allay concerns about employees’ abuse of the benefit.

The ordinance allows for an employer to request verification of need for sick leave when an employee requests a fourth consecutive day of leave. Prior to the fourth day, no cause or verification is required under the law. It is up to the employee what type of verification to provide.

The ordinance relies on existing state and federal laws, such as the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act in providing guidance on the subject.

Much of the commission’s discussion involved what kinds of verification documents an employee could provide, or that an employer can request, in cases of domestic violence.

As passed, the ordinance states an employer “may adopt reasonable verification procedures,” but that in the case of domestic abuse and sexual assault, the employer may not adopt such procedures. The commission had recommended providing some examples of verification documents – such as a physician’s note or police report — based on feedback from public information sessions in July.

“It adds an additional burden [for employees] and that was the concern,” said Joleen Garcia, Texas Organizing Project organizer. “In addition, having to provide these documents to the employer adds to the violation of privacy and forces a person going through a very difficult situation to have to re-experience the traumatic experience. The power lies in the hands of the employer, and that’s where the danger lies.”

The commission agreed that the ordinance will specify that the employee can choose which verification method or document he or she wishes to provide.

Based on the discussion around domestic violence and injury from violence in general, which the law includes as reasons an employee could request paid sick leave, the commission also determined that the ordinance may be renamed to fully address all the ways in which an employee may use the benefit.

Passed by the council in November, the ordinance requiring employers with more than five employees to provide one hour of earned sick leave for every 80 hours works could be relabeled the Paid Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance.

The commission also talked at length about how to address in the ordinance an employee’s pattern of abuse of paid sick leave and how employers could legally challenge such abuses. It was an issue that also arose from the public information sessions as employers sought to understand their rights in confronting employees who they perceive as abusing the benefit.

The commission is recommending the ordinance state that, if an employer suspects an employee is taking advantage of the benefit unjustifiably – such as calling in sick on a day the employee was previously denied a day off –  the employee can be asked for verification. It is similar to the City of Portland’s ordinance.

Al Arreola, president and CEO of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the parameters set by state and federal law protect both employee and employer in these cases. “We’re just trying to foster the conversation between employee and employer, we don’t need to make it any more than it is,” he said.

While Garcia told the group that research shows abuse of paid sick leave is insignificant, Christine Arredondo said that’s not the case in her experience as a small business owner in the food and beverage industry.

Lisa Fullerton, president and CEO of A Novel Idea, which operates six Auntie Anne’s and two Cinnabon franchises in San Antonio and San Marcos, said she didn’t think the majority of her employees would take advantage. “But given my experience in 20 years, I do have a minority of people who ride the clock,” she said, and called for some language that provided clarity for both employees and employers.

“This takes us back to what we’re trying to do, make it a better ordinance than the one we had and take advantage of other ordinances that currently exist and use the language they have,” Hargrove said. “So where we can add language that addresses concerns that we know people may have or where it might be unclear … it takes away some of the pushback we might get.”

Councilman Roberto Trevino (D1) attended the meeting Wednesday and addressed the commission, saying the issue of paid sick leave is personal to him, having grown up the son of a single parent.

“We all know how important it is this ordinance creates something that will help keep stability within all our families in San Antonio,” he said.

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