Portland Joins Small Group of Jurisdictions In Adopting Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

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By Paul Shukovsky  

The Portland, Ore., City Council March 13 unanimously approved an ordinance that will require businesses in the city to give employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually.

With the passage of the ordinance--which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014--Portland joins Connecticut, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., on the short list of jurisdictions having paid sick leave laws.

The Portland ordinance, which passed on a 5-0 vote, mandates that employers with six or more employees give one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers with fewer than six employees must provide unpaid leave.

Portland City Council Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who introduced the ordinance, lauded its passage March 13. “Council has passed an historic ordinance supporting human rights in the United States of America, and the health of businesses and employees here in Portland,” she said on her website.

“Although an estimated 60 [percent] of Portland's workers are already covered by earning paid sick leave so they can stay home when they are ill, up to 40 [percent] of employees in Portland don't receive even a single day of paid sick leave,” Fritz said. “It is a public health concern when people who are sick with the flu have to choose between staying home to recover, and being able to pay their bills.”

Fritz's Chief of Staff Tom Bizeau told BNA March 13 that although the legislation received widespread support from “numerous small businesses, nonprofits, and unions … it got flak from the restaurant association, from the grocers' association and also from the local chamber of commerce, the Portland Business Alliance.”

'Very Imperfect Ordinance’

Megan Doern, vice president of communications and programming for the business alliance, told BNA March 14: “It's a very imperfect ordinance. This impacts so many businesses across the city. This really infringes upon the conversation between the employer and the employee on what their compensation package looks like. It is going to cost them [businesses] tens of thousands of dollars. And it's going to hurt their ability to hire … to provide health care benefits, [and] other benefits that employees traditionally had.”

The ordinance also will place Portland at a competitive disadvantage with the city of Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River, she said. “This just adds another hurdle for our recruitment and economic development efforts.”

Bizeau said San Francisco's experience with a sick leave law gave lawmakers a sense of confidence that the new law would not hurt area businesses' bottom line. “Workers [in San Francisco] do not take the full amount of sick level available to them,” he said. “The average that they have found is 2.5 sick days a year, which says the costs and the fears associated [with paid sick leave laws] are highly inflated.”

Bizeau said although the details have yet to be worked out, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries has agreed in principle to enforce the ordinance.”

'Victory in Portland’

Debra L. Ness, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit organization known for its advocacy of laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, issued a statement March 13 congratulating Portland on the passage of the law.

“There are dozens of efforts to advance similar proposals across the country, including in Philadelphia, New York City, Maryland and Vermont,” she said. “This victory in Portland adds to national momentum for paid sick days policies” and shows the “widespread benefits and the need for a national paid sick days standard like the Healthy Families Act, which we expect will be introduced in Congress next week.”

Paid Leave Battle in Seattle

The Republican-controlled Washington State Senate, meantime, passed a bill (E.S.B. 5726) March 11 intended to undercut a Seattle paid sick leave ordinance, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2012, and requires that companies with more than four employees give at least five paid days if an employee is sick (29 HRR 1048, 10/3/11).

E.S.B. 5726, which passed on a 29-20 vote, has little chance of survival in the House given the House's Democratic majority. The bill would prohibit ordinances such as Seattle's “unless the employer has a physical location within the jurisdiction and the employee works at or reports to that physical location for at least 85 percent of the hours regularly and customarily worked for that employer.”

By Paul Shukovsky  

Text of the Portland ordinance is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=kpin-95ssv6. Text of E.S.B. 5726 is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=kpin-95ssbs.

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