Proposed emergency sick leave plan could impact local businesses

Rachel Heavrin
Rachel Heavrin
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY 3rd)
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY 3rd)

By Caton Bredar - bio  | email
Posted by Charles Gazaway - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - With 57 million Americans working without paid sick leave, the outbreak of the H1N1 virus is forcing thousands of people to choose between going to work sick or going without. Concerned that too many people are having to make that choice, Congress is considering new legislation that would require employers to offer their workers up to a week of paid sick leave.

For local businesses, like Wick's Pizza on Bardstown Road and throughout Louisville, the impact of legislation mandating sick pay could be great. Wick's employs close to 250 people. Many of them are wait staff, cooks, and delivery people - people who can't afford to be sick.

"You can't come to work sick and be sneezing all over pizza," explained Rachel Heavrin, a server at Wick's Pizza on Baxter Avenue.

Heavrin has worked 30 to 40 hours a week at Wick's for the last two years. She says while she doesn't get any sick pay, Wick's policies regarding sick employees are fair.

"If we're really sick, we can call in, and someone can cover our shift," Heavrin said. "We have to get a doctor's note."

While Heavrin would appreciate the extra money the proposed legislation might lead to, she also understands why some businesses might not be able to handle the extra burden.

"With the hard economic times and all, the extra sick time would actually take a lot out of the business," Heavrin said. "It could cause them to close. It could cause them to lose profit."

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY 3rd) said the proposed bill in the House of Representatives would force employers of 15 or more workers to pay up to 56 hours of sick leave, provided those workers had put in a minimum number of hours and had a history with the employer. According to Yarmuth, it is a cost businesses can't afford not to cover.

"If you have 15 or 20 employees and you have a couple with the flu, what you're risking by putting pressure on them to be at work is that your entire workforce goes out. So, I think it's probably a protection for the employer," said Yarmuth.

Yarmuth added that he believes there is a suspicion about employees taking advantage of sick leave.

"That I don't think plays itself out in the real world," Yarmuth said. "Most employees are very trustworthy, they're very diligent and they work hard."

That is a premise not everyone agrees with.

"I'm sure people would take advantage of it," Heavrin said. "They would call in sick and just want to go to the park or whatever."

Still, Yarmuth believes it's not too much to ask of responsible business owners.

"You're talking about a week's time, over the course of a year," Yarmuth said. "And overall, in the scheme of things, I can't imagine it's that much of a hardship for businesses."

Yarmuth said the House is still considering whether or not to advance the bill. The Senate is still in the process of writing its version, so there is really no time frame for the bill to pass.

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