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Paid sick time will be mandatory in St. Paul, even for tiny businesses

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St. Paul is the second Minnesota city to require businesses to provide paid sick time to their workers.

The city council unanimously approved an ordinance on Wednesday and Mayor Chris Coleman endorsed it, saying in a statement that providing earned sick time is "the right thing to do" and will improve the lives of working people.

While a similar measure that Minneapolis passed last spring applies only to companies that have more than five employees, St. Paul's affects businesses of any size.

When it takes effect next summer, workers will earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. They can pile up unused sick time until it reaches 80 hours. The time off can also be used to care for sick relatives or deal with domestic violence or stalking.

Healthier, more stable workforce ... ?

Advocates for the change are calling St. Paul's policy the strongest sick time ordinance in the country.

The National Partnership for Women and Families put out a statement applauding St. Paul's ordinance.

A study released earlier this year by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that 42 percent of those working in St. Paul do not have paid time off.

Local groups including a coalition of religious organizations called ISIAH have argued that many people in low-wage jobs continue to come to work when they're sick because they can't afford to lose the income, while others are forced to choose between keeping their jobs or caring for a loved one.

And some business owners – such as those who have joined the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota – say providing paid time off saves money in the long run by cutting down on employee turnover.

...or fewer jobs and companies moving?

Many other business owners are not happy about the sick time requirement.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce lobbied unsuccessfully for changes to the ordinance, including a size exemption like the one in Minneapolis. They say St. Paul's policy creates a record-keeping burden that will be hard for small businesses to meet.

Lisa Schmid, who specializes in employment law for the Minneapolis firm Nilan Johnson Lewis tells Finance & Commerce St. Paul's new rule will be logistically difficult and expensive, especially for small businesses.

Some business people have said St. Paul's move essentially raises the cost of hiring and will cause companies to consider automating or finding other ways to keep from taking on more workers – or will lead them to relocate to a city without the sick time requirement.

A spokesman for the University of St. Thomas told the Pioneer Press this summer that if their 2,500 student employees each took two sick days per year, the cost to the university would be $425,000 and would likely require a tuition increase.

St. Paul's ordinance takes effect on July 1 of next year for larger businesses (at least two dozen employees) while smaller ones will have until the end of 2017.

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