Task force recommends extending sick pay to 70,000 workers in St. Paul

St. Paul business owner Diane Brennan speaks in support of a citywide earned sick time policy at a press conference before a public hearing on the issue.

St. Paul business owner Diane Brennan spoke in support of a citywide earned sick time policy before a public hearing on the issue.


St. Paul’s task force on earned sick and safe time has issued its recommendations, and they include requiring employers to provide workers with one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, with sick-time earnings capped at 48 hours per year.

If adopted by the city’s elected officials, the policy would extend ESST benefits to an estimated 70,000 workers in St. Paul.

The task force, appointed by Mayor Chris Coleman and members of the City Council, included business owners, workers and representatives of several labor organizations, including St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper.

“These recommendations reflect three months of work by members of our task force,” Kasper said. “We heard testimony from public health experts, working people and business owners. After careful consideration and respectful dialogue, we reached a set of recommendations that, I believe, reflect St. Paul’s values.”

The city’s Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission received the official recommendations and heard public comments on the issue June 21. Workers, religious leaders, small business owners and community leaders expressed support for the task force’s recommendations.

Community organizers read statements from low-wage workers about the times they’ve had to come into work sick.

Sara Leanio, a nurse at Children's Hospital in St. Paul and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said an earned-sick time policy would benefit public health.

Sara Leanio, a nurse at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said an earned-sick time policy would benefit public health.

“We all have stories from our day-to-day lives of noticing someone working in retail or food service who we can tell came to work sick – and we wish would have just stayed home,” Children’s Hospital nurse Sara Leanio said. “It’s gross, and it’s time we have a policy that supports workers to do so.”

Fusion Salon owner Diane Brennan explained why she began offering sick time to employees at her Snelling Avenue business earlier this year.

“My values insist that I take care of my staff and their families because I care about them on a personal level,” she said. “It was the right thing to do.”

The HREEO Commission will make final recommendations regarding a potential ordinance to the City Council and mayor in July, but will continue to accept public input on the issue via the city’s website.

In May the Minneapolis City Council passed the state’s first ordinance requiring employers to provide earned sick and safe time, joining 26 other cities nationwide with ESST ordinances on the books.

Some of the St. Paul task force’s recommendations, including the accrual formula and 48-hour cap, mirror the Minneapolis ordinance, scheduled to take effect in July 2017.

But the Minneapolis ordinance guarantees sick pay only to workers at businesses with six or more employees. At businesses with five or fewer employees, the leave will be unpaid.

The St. Paul task force recommended any ordinance benefit all working people, regardless of the size of their employer. The task force did note that employers with existing arrangements like paid-time off or collective bargaining agreements, as long as they meet minimum recommended standards, would be “deemed compliant.”

The task force recommended employees begin accruing sick time after working 80 hours, and that they become eligible to use their sick time after 90 calendar days of employment.

Although workers’ sick pay would be capped at 48 hours per year, they would be able to bank up to 80 hours.

Sick time, according to the recommendation, could be used to recover from or address a mental or physical illness, as well as time needed for medical diagnosis or preventative care. “Safe time” would apply when an employee or an employee’s family member is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

Supporters of the earned sick and safe time policy argue that when people show up to work sick, it spreads disease, slows their recovery and forces people to choose between not getting paid and working while sick.

“It’s a choice no one should have to make,” Kasper said. “I applaud Mayor Coleman and the council for moving forward on this critical issue.”

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