Austin City Council members voted early Friday to require all private employers in the city to provide employees at least six to eight days of paid sick leave, depending on the size of the company.
The vote was 9 to 2, with Ora Houston and Ellen Troxclair voting no. Austin is believed to be the first city in Texas to regulate paid sick time.
"We have structures in place that say ... who lives and who dies, who has health care and who doesn't have health care. This has all been about organizing people around reducing that inequality," said Council Member Greg Casar, who spearheaded the new rules. "By passing this ordinance, if somebody works for a company and somebody else works for another company, there isn't some people with paid sick days and some people without."
By October, a business employing 15 or more workers will be required to offer eight days of paid sick leave a year, while companies employing six to 15 people will be required to provide six. The city could start bringing fines against companies by June 1, 2019. Businesses with five or fewer employees will have until October 2020 to begin offering paid sick days.
Of the roughly 300 people who testified at City Hall on Thursday evening, the majority spoke in favor of the paid sick leave rules, calling paid sick leave a basic right.
Small-business owners and organizations that represent business interests spoke against the ordinance, citing the uncertain financial impact and what they said was a solution to an unestablished problem.
Mayor Steve Adler said the data don't bear out these concerns.
“Cities that have done this do not see the extent of impact people are anxious about,” he said. “I just don’t think the harm’s going to be what people anticipate.”
At least nine states and a number of cities outside those states currently mandate paid sick leave. Several studies have found the financial impact on local businesses to be minimal.
A year after Seattle passed an ordinance in 2011 requiring all employers with five or more employees to provide at least five paid sick days a year, researchers with the University of Washington began surveying employers. When asked to sum up their findings, associate professor Jennifer Romich said, “Employers knew about it, they did it and it wasn’t all that hard.”
According to the study, 8.2 percent of employers raised prices to compensate for providing paid sick leave, while 6.4 percent of surveyed employers reported having to decrease bonus pay or raises. Seventeen percent of businesses thought the new rules made them less profitable. (In 2018, Seattle added more generous provisions to adhere to new paid sick leave rules passed by the Washington state Legislature).
The Austin ordinance would allow workers to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Businesses are permitted to count current paid time off toward the required paid sick leave days. Starting in 2019, the city will publish annual reports on the economic impact the ordinance has had on businesses, plus the nature and frequency of violations.
At a council work session on Tuesday, Human Resources Director Joya Hayes said the city would need to hire between three and six temporary employees to enforce these new rules, plus contract with a company to educate the public about the new rules.
There’s a chance the sick leave rules will be short-lived. State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) has said he would file a bill in the 2019 legislative session prohibiting municipalities from regulating paid sick leave for private employers.
“I support employers providing paid sick leave for their employees, but it is not the role of government to mandate that employers do this," he said at a press conference Friday. "The free market is the best determiner of these types of policies.”
This post has been updated.