As the U.S. works to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic, San Jose lawmakers are exploring a paid sick leave ordinance to ensure workers have time off if they fall ill.
In a March 12 proposal authored by City Council members Maya Esparza, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas, businesses in San Jose would be required to provide sick pay to employees who’ve worked at least two hours.
The councilors asked city officials to build on similar laws in San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco and require employers to provide workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work. They also want to ensure that employees can accrue 80 hours of paid sick leave and let them use it no more than 90 days after their start date.
But at Wednesday afternoon’s Rules and Open Government Committee meeting, council members opted to explore paid sick leave only for employees deemed “essential” by a recently passed regional ordinance. Santa Clara County—along with a number of other jurisdictions in Northern California—have asked residents to “shelter in place” and only go out when absolutely necessary. But essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, news outlets, residential contractors and doctor’s offices, will stay open.
“We certainly want to create an environment where essential workers are not compelled to come to work sick and spread the virus,” City Manager Dave Sykes said.
During the meeting, Councilman Johnny Khamis said he was concerned about the impact the ordinance would have on small businesses. “I think that this could strain them even further by giving them more regulations and more hoops to jump through” he said.
As one of three co-authors of the policy, Arenas disagreed.
“We want to be able to go in [to these businesses] knowing that these workers are offered sick pay and that they’re not there because they have no other option,” she said. “It is not trying to hurt any of the small businesses. It’s really trying to protect all of us because we know containment is, for right now, the best solution.”
With Congress hearing new legislation on paid sick leave, Councilwoman Dev Davis wondered if San Jose should hold off on moving forward with its own version.
“I wonder about duplicating the efforts where we need to be on the ground right now versus waiting a couple of weeks, seeing how that all shakes out and then having staff turn to this if that doesn’t pan out” she said.
But the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the legislation she referred to, won’t protect everyone. Businesses with fewer than 50 workers could seen exemptions and the law wouldn’t apply to companies with more than 500 workers. That means it covers only a fifth of the American workforce.
“It’s pragmatic to allow people to be home when they’re sick and to take care of loved ones who are sick,” Esparza said.
City officials plan to bring back more info on the new law at a March 25 Rules meeting.