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An Overdue Step

The real facts about the city’s paid sick time proposal
Betty Taylor
Betty Taylor

While much ink has already been spilled over the City Council’s proposed paid sick time policy, it’s important that our community is debating actual facts and applying appropriate context to the matter. I would like to clarify some key points.

As the Eugene City Council, we serve everyone who lives and works in our town, which is why the proposed ordinance applies to everyone who works more than the occasional flyover in Eugene, regardless of their employer’s base location. As a public health measure, it wouldn’t work so well if some people have to continue to work sick, spreading contagion to colleagues and clients. We want everyone working in Eugene to be able to recover at home and reduce the impact of their illness on everyone else.

This is not a complicated policy. Are there details to understand? Of course, but not that many.

There’s been a lot of discussion of onerous tracking and reporting, but there will be no sick days police. Employers will not be required to report any sick days data to the city. Like most employment laws, enforcement will happen on a complaint basis, meaning employees who experience a violation can complain to the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), whose staff will then investigate. 

The tracking is pretty similar to what’s already done for payroll. And, further, avoiding fair labor laws because they require some human resource time isn’t right. One simple option available to all employers to reduce paperwork and accrual tracking is to front-load their staff with the total hours they would accrue in a year, then all that is required is to track actual hours used. Experience shows that people are quite protective of their sick time and only use it when it is really needed. In fact, many don’t use their sick time at all, costing their employer nothing.

Council has devoted a great deal of time to this issue because it’s important to us and to the community. And the process isn’t over. A thorough rule-making process is yet to come, during which many details will be ironed out. This will be done by soliciting input from a range of perspectives, and by applying data, with lots of opportunity for robust dialog. Once the rules are established there will be several months for employer trainings and education as well as outreach to workers to ensure the smoothest possible implementation. 

Our proposal will not cost the city millions of dollars as some are claiming. Nor will it cost employers millions. Quite the contrary: Paid sick time leads to healthier employees, less costly turnover and a more committed and productive workforce with less presenteeism (when people are physically at work but not able to do much due to illness). Experience from other cities tells us that paid sick days policies do not impede business growth. And let’s not forget that there is a current cost to not having paid sick time, one that is borne mostly by working people whose health and financial security suffer when they’re forced to either work sick or lose needed pay (or their job) when they get ill.

What we’re proposing is a straightforward, minimum labor standard of five earned sick days per year (40 hours). This will be a welcome improvement and provide a much needed sense of security for those who currently don’t have a single paid day off work — not one. 

Oregon and Eugene are known for innovation, excellence and leadership in many arenas, but when it comes to setting basic workplace protections and family supportive policies for everyone, we are behind the rest of the world. Ensuring a few paid sick days for everyone is a small but significant opportunity to do better.

I have supported this idea from the very beginning for the simple reason that it is a long overdue step in the right direction for our community’s public health, our local economy and, importantly, for all the hard-working folks who struggle to maintain their own and their family’s health while holding down a job.