Fritz defends City ‘Sick Leave Policy’ before Midway business group

See what Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz had to say, when Midway Business Association members quizzed her on this new policy that affects private businesses …

Midway Business Association President Dr. David Day, Chiropractor, welcomes members and guests to their meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After self introductions, at the general membership meeting of the Midway Business Association (MBA) on February 11, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz was given the floor, and the noontime meeting began.

“I’m now in charge of Portland Parks and Development Services, Fritz began. “I’m also here to speak about Portland’s new ‘Protected Sick Leave Ordinance’.

“It has been in effect since January 1. Employers should have received information in the mail.”

The “Portland Protected Sick Time Ordinance” applies to all employees who work within the geographic boundaries of the city of Portland for 240 hours or more in a calendar year, Fritz reviewed.  Some workers will earn paid sick time; others will earn unpaid sick time, depending on the number of employees in the company.

Commissioner Fritz shows information sheets she says were sent to all employers in the City of Portland.

An information sheet Fritz handed out stated, “If an employer already allows all full-time, part-time, and temporary employees to accrue one hour of Protected Sick Time per every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year (Protected Sick Time can include: Paid Sick Time, for employers with 6 or more employees; unpaid sick time, for employers with 5 or fewer employees, Paid Time Off (PTO), and/or Paid Vacation Days) – as long as the Protected Sick Time is available for employee use without notice, for sick leave purposes – then the existing policy likely already meets the minimum requirements.

“Employees, who have earned sick time, may use it for issues related to their own health, to care for the health of a family member, or to address issues caused by domestic violence, sexual harassment, assault, or stalking. Sick time may be used in increments of one hour or greater (unless your employer allows for smaller time increments). Sick time may be used to cover all or part of a shift.”

Pamphlets, in both English and Spanish, are available to tell workers about the new Portland Protected Sick Leave Ordinance.

About the implementation, Fritz commented, “So far it seems to be going pretty smoothly. More jurisdictions around the nation are doing something very similar to what we’ve done in Portland. The good news is that we will be ‘ahead of the game’.

“The [Portland] Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) is doing education; a part-time person works three days a week answering questions; or, you can e-mail me,” Fritz explained..  “I’m no longer quite the expert on this because it is being implemented both by the Bureau of Labor & Industry and by others on my staff.”

After the Portland Administrative Rule came out, the Portland City Council made another package of amendments in an effort to clarify certain areas. “We can [make additional amendments] if we run into things that we need to clarify or change. We are working on this together.”

Rich Sorem, of Rose City Associates, asks why the Protected Sick Leave Ordinance Administrative Rule was enacted.

Rich Sorem, an outer East Portland business person asked “What was the reasoning for starting this new law – what was the basis for that?”

Fritz replied, “It was that 40% of workers in Portland don’t receive any paid sick time – or any allowed sick time. I heard from thousands of employees.”

Sorem: “Really?”

Fritz: “Yes, really. I got 7,000 postcards, actual postcards, [from employees]. There were particularly heartbreaking stories about people calling in sick. The challenge is that there are some employers who don’t do right by their employees, and other employers who do.  This addresses those who don’t, which includes some national corporations which I will not name.”

Sorem: “Not having a sick leave policy seems so Neanderthal. 40% of employers don’t offer a sick leave policy?”

Fritz: “Yes. For example [at some businesses], if an employee calls in sick, just once, they get fired. We had a Subway employee who said that was his story.”

Sorem: “Did you talk to the employer?”

Fritz: “I did not speak to that particular employer.”

Sorem: “There are two sides to every story.”

Fritz: “We can debate the merits of the system, if you like. But, it is now the law.”

Commissioner Fritz responds to questions posed by business people at this MBA meeting about the Protected Sick Leave Ordinance.

Bill Dayton, owner of Pizza Baron, where the meeting took place, said he was concerned after hearing some newer employees talk about how they plan to use there new benefits under Portland’s Protected Sick Leave Ordinance.

“They’re talking about how they will manipulate the system,” Dayton said.

“All of my regular employees, that have worked for me for a while, I’ve never fired anyone for calling in sick,” Dayton continued. “Look, I’ve been doing this for 40 years. Training a new employee to replace them takes many unproductive hours – days of lost time – it’s really expensive.”

Fritz asked what he did when he overheard the conversation about gaming the Protected Sick Leave Ordinance system.

“I let them know that they don’t just automatically get 40 hours of sick time,” Dayton replied. “These are good employees, but I need them to know the facts.”

He stands by his loyal employees, Dayton added. “For example one who has worked with me since he was 16 years old needs a kidney transplant. I’m paying all the time he’s off, and helping pay for his kidney transplant.

“But, for someone who’s worked for us for a few weeks to start talking about how they’re going to take advantage of sick leave – it’s hard not to resent that,” Dayton said.

Fritz replied, “If you notice a pattern that they’re calling in sick on a weekend, or after payday, you can certainly address that with them.”

Jim Braet of and, and Pizza Baron owner Bill Dayton, listen as Commissioner Amanda Fritz tells about her office’s generous sick leave policy.

Although employees in her office have a “much more generous” sick leave policy than the new Administrative Rule demands, Fritz said, they still monitor the policy’s use. “An employer is allowed to investigate a pattern of abuse one time. If your employee is saying on Facebook that they are skiing on Mount Hood, when they called in for a sick day, you have cause to talk to that employee.”

Use of a “point system” for illness-related absences is “no longer allowed under our regulation,” Fritz said. [Employees] get up to 40 hours of earned, protected, sick time. The employer can choose to ‘give’ 40 hours at the beginning of every year, can choose to make it at the start of an employment anniversary year, fiscal year, a calendar year.”

But, the Commissioner pointed out, during this year, an employee can’t take sick leave until after the first 90 days; that is, until after March 31.

Fritz continued, “We’re finding that a lot of companies provide sick leave for fulltime, but not for part-time, workers.  For part-time workers they are allowed to trade shifts.  Most part-time employees really want to be there, and a will work a different day if they have to be sick on Monday.  This is particularly true for service workers where they get tips – the tips don’t count.  There’s a built-in incentive for servers to come to work.

Commissioner restates that, before the new Administrative Rule, 40% of employees were not covered by any sick leave policy.

MBA President Dr. David Day said he’d had more than six employees at one time, but now has fewer. “This ordinance makes me less inclined to hire new employees. It feels like employers bear the brunt of this. I’m more inclined in fact I have invested in a computer system – as a front desk clinic check-in kiosk, instead of hiring a staffperson.”

“The cost of this [to employers] is between 1% and 2%,” remarked Fritz.

The new sick leave policy costs employers “between 1% and 2%” Fritz says.

Others questioned Fritz that additional cost she quoted, incurred by businesses because of the new Protected Sick Leave Ordinance. “If you do the math it isn’t [more than that]. It really isn’t. Even if all of your employees take your maximum, that’s [the actual amount of additional expense]. In San Francisco, smaller businesses must give seven sick days, the employees of larger businesses give nine sick days – but the average [use by employees there] is three days.”

‘Snow days’ don’t count
Bringing up the subject of “snow days” they are not a health care problem, Fritz pointed out. “You can’t say because my kid is off from school because of a snow day I can’t come in – and use it as a sick day.  That is not one of the identified uses.”

Commissioner Fritz opined that the Protected Sick Leave Ordinance can be a good “marketing tool” for retail businesses. “I live in Southwest Portland. Instead of buying in Tigard or Beaverton, I’ll buy within the City of Portland. We should be patronizing our neighborhood small businesses, in particular.  You are the ones that have been impacted the most by this.”

Summing up, Fritz said, “Let’s see how this works out. I think you’ll see this also coming at the Oregon state level, and the national level. We can help inform [other governmental bodies] about the things that work well and don’t work well in the City.

“We’re one the last industrialized nations in the world that does not provide paid time off for sick workers.”

Find out all about Portland’s Protected Sick Leave Ordinance at BOLI’s official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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