Austin outlines plans on how city-wide paid sick leave would work

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An ordinance introduced last week could pave the way for more Austin workers to take paid sick days.

The proposed ordinance highlighted that denying earned sick time to employees “is unjust,” “is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the City” and “contributes to employee turnover and unemployment, and harms the local economy.” According to Work Strong Austin, 37 percent of Austinites — about 223,000 people — don’t have access to sick days. Some, however, say offering paid sick days could cost businesses and the city more money.

The ordinance incorporates feedback from supporters and those who are not in favor of a city-wide paid sick leave ordinance that was gathered in late 2017, according to a press release from sponsor Greg Casar and co-sponsors Delia Garza, Ann Kitchen and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Tovo. Casar said the process of creating the ordinance was one of the “most thorough and demanding” he’s experienced.

“I’m grateful for the working families, small business leaders, and advocates who have been engaged in this policy process to ensure no one in Austin has to choose between paying their bills or taking care of themselves or a loved one when they are sick,” Casar said. “I’m committed to making this the best possible policy for all Austinites.”

Under the ordinance, employees will accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, and can start using it as soon as they’ve earned it. Employees can use the sick time if they are hurt or ill, need to care for a family member who is injured or sick, if they need to get medical attention or have a doctor’s appointment for preventative care. People can also use the time if they need to participate in legal or court-ordered action related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking of them or their family. Employers can’t ask for proof unless a worker will be out for more than three consecutive days.

Employers don’t have to provide more than 64 hours of earned sick time, and the leftovers from one year can roll over into the next. Employees who take sick leave would be paid what they would have earned normally except for tips, overtime premium or commissions. They can’t be paid less than the state minimum wage.

The City of Austin’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Fair Housing Office would be in charge of investigating any complaints or violations. The city may assess a fine of up to $500 for a violation by a company.

The City Council will vote on the ordinance Feb. 15.

There’s no state law saying employers have to provide paid sick time in Texas. Only Arizona, California and the District of Columbia require all businesses to pay their employees for sick days. Some other states have laws that say businesses which employ more than a certain number of people have to offer paid sick days, too.

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