Let businesses prepare for sick leave 

Some applause, please, for Sean Elsbernd, the supervisor who’s working to give The City’s businesses a grace period to learn just how to live with the new paid sick leave ordinance. Passed by voters in November, the law goes into effect Monday, but its idealistic authors left unanswered many questions about its implementation.

A capsule explanation of itsmandates: A business with fewer than 10 employees must offer at least five paid sick days per year; larger firms must grant nine sick days. Each worker is to accrue one hour of leave per 30 days worked. A liberal provision allows workers to take such paid absences to care for a family member or friend.

The problem with managing other people’s businesses by means of the ballot box, as we pointed out before the election, is that it can seriously impair the ability to do business, maybe even drive some businesses to close down under the newly imposed costs.

On principle, such measures are anti-freedom, as the supposed beneficiaries, contemplating the launch of their own enterprises, may find once they’ve established the financial footing to follow their dreams.

Sure enough, Proposition F created consternation throughout the business community. For starters, there was no provision to communicate the law’s requirements. What owners learned, often by word-of-mouth, prompted even more questions.

Where, for example, do employees not paid by the hour fall? What about seasonal workers? Where’s the fairness for them? And wouldn’t this advantage, say, supermarket chains over small grocers? Though this was a citywide election, there was little public airing of these looming headaches.

If the measure was the democratically committed mistake it may turn out to be, it will have to be repealed democratically. Even if the Board of Supervisors understood the damage done to business, the body would be powerless to take the measure back. At least Elsbernd, recognizing a potential crisis, is pushing to delay enforcement until June 5.

By that time, the supervisor thinks, "the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement will have fully fleshed out the rules and regulations and by June 5 we’ll know exactly how much is to be paid."

For businesses, a newly empowered municipal agency dictating even more terms of their daily life doesn’t exactly inspire optimism. But we may hope the OLSE can forge some reliable guidelines — always a challenge to bureaucratic behavior.

Of course, the paid sick leave measure — the first of its kind in the nation — was placed on the ballot by Supervisor Chris Daly and Young Workers United as an end run around the mayor and the full board. The clear lesson: Elsbernd and the other supervisors with a modicum of business sense must unite in order to blunt such misguided efforts.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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