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Hospitality Group Says City Rushing Implementation Of Sick Leave Policy Passed By Council In 2015

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Bantha Tea Bar on Penn Avenue in Garfield is among the first three restaurants to voluntarily offer its employees paid sick time, similar to legislation passed by the Pittsburgh City Council in 2015.

The organization that represents Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry says the City of Pittsburgh is rushing implementation of a paid sick leave ordinance.

Starting March 15, Pittsburgh businesses with 15 or more employees must provide one hour of paid sick time, for every 35 hours worked.

Business with fewer than 15 employees must also provide sick time, but just up to 24 hours. This leave is not required to be paid time off until March 2021.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association says three months is not enough time to comply with the new policy, which the city announced last week. Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs with the association, said the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality industry.

“It shouldn’t be a game of ‘Gotcha,’” Bova said. “We want to help ensure compliance, and we don’t think 90 days, where 30 is kind of lost in the holidays, is the way to do it.”

To help businesses adapt to the new ordinances, Bova said the association will be hosting trainings, likely at the end of January or beginning of February.

Bova said members have raised specific concerns. For example, one of the guidelines states that employees must call in sick as soon as they are able, but Bova said many restaurants and shops need at least two-hours’ notice to accommodate staffing changes.

“If you have three people call out, in some cases, you can’t even open,” she said. “I think the questions are specifically that the law states [things] that are not easily applicable.”

The mayor’s office notes the sick time ordinance was first passed in 2015. A failed legal challenge from the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association delayed its implementation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the ordinance was constitutional in July.

“Businesses have been aware of this for more than four years,” said Tim McNulty, the director of communications for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office.

LeaAnne DeRigne, an association professor of social work who specializes in health policy at Florida Atlantic University, said Pittsburgh’s new policy has positive public health implications for the city. That’s because when people don’t have paid sick leave, they’re more likely to go to work while injured or ill.

“There were some pretty famous cases, especially in the restaurant industry, where people were coming to work when they had the flu, and-or a gastrointestinal virus that they were then passing on to their customers,” said DeRigne. “Chipotle probably got the most media attention," she said, referring to an outbreak of Norovirus at a Virginia restaurant in 2017.

DeRigne’s research has also found that people who don’t have paid sick leave are more likely to use social safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Association Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. She said this is the case, even when researchers controlled for income and industry differences.

“What paid sick leave offers is some stability at work, so you are not putting your job in jeopardy when you need to take a sick day,” she said, “or you’re not losing eight hours of wages.”