Heated debate begins over Denver sick-time proposal

5:17 AM, Aug 3, 2011   |    comments
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The initiative promises nine paid sick days to every full-time employee in the city and county of Denver. It is five days if you work for a small business with less than 10 workers. Part-timers would get one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

The debate on whether this will help or hurt businesses and their employees has already begun. The people pushing for paid sick-time here in Denver say two-thirds of voters support the idea. Others say mandatory sick-leave will only hurt small businesses at the worst possible time.

"It puts us at a competitive disadvantage," Sean Workman, GM of the Hornet Restaurant at 1st and Broadway in Denver said. "This is just another way to add on to the expense and discourage small business."

Lynsey McMullen, a bartender at the restaurant, disagrees.

"It would be nice," she said. "I am a working mom."

McMullen says nine days of paid sick leave a year would be a welcome change when it comes to her young daughter.

"She got stung by a bee this morning and I was worried about her swelling up and everything," McMullen said. "It would have been nice to have said, 'Maybe I can take this shift off.' But I can't afford that."

Workman worries employees might feel entitled to take every one of those nine days off, putting his business in a bind.

"It becomes a scheduling nightmare," Workman said. "One or two people calling in sick can actually screw up a business for the day."

He says restaurants like his would be forced to schedule more staff, which might mean fewer tips to go around.

"Obviously it affects the servers pocket as well," Workman said.

McMullen says paid sick leave might limit the spread of illness.

"At other restaurants I've worked on a sprained ankle, complete flu symptoms," McMullen said. "Passing it on to customers doesn't represent the restaurant very well."

Workman says he always sends sick employees home but being forced to provide nine days of paid time off puts Denver businesses at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding cities and counties in the metro area.

"This is just another way to add on to the expense and discourage small business," Workman said.

Business owners say the paid sick leave initiative could hurt economic development,

It received certified signatures to be officially put on the ballot Monday. The Denver Clerk and Recorder certified 7,248 petition signatures Monday to get the measure on the Denver ballot, even though it only needed 3,973 petition signatures.

"It really is a public health issue because the folks that we interact with every day in Denver, the child care workers, the health care workers, the food service workers. If they have to choose between staying home to get healthy or going to work, that affects all of us," Kevin Pape, with the Campaign for a Healthy Denver, said. "So, we really feel that this is the best thing for the community of Denver and for the workers of Denver."

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Restaurant Association are among those opposing the legislation.

"I think the important thing is one size fits all policies don't work for small business," Roger Sherman, with the Keep Denver Competitive Campaign, said. "We are just coming out of a recession. I wouldn't say anyone feels like we are headed into good times. It's tough out there to be successful. This really is a drastic and difficult policy for small businesses to survive."

A highly unscientific 9NEWS Facebook poll asked: Should businesses be required to provide paid sick days?
- 351 people voted in this highly unscientific poll as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.
- 21 percent said: Yes - and the law should mandate how many paid sick days.
- 67 percent said: Yes - but businesses should decide.
- 12 percent said: No sick days.

San Francisco has had paid sick time laws since 2007. Supporters say it has not hurt businesses there, but has helped workers.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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