by Rebecca Melancon, Executive Director
On February 15, the City Council passed the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance mandating specified paid sick days for all employees working within the city limits. (See City of Austin Mandated Paid Sick Leave Ordinance). The ordinance takes effect on October 1, 2018.
The Rules for Investigation of Complaints and Assessment of Penalties has been issued and it appears to be more cause for concern. The administrative rules are the details of how the city will investigate complaints regarding the paid sick leave policy and what they will do about it in what time frame.
One large looming question is what defines a violation. I called Jonathan Babiak, City of Austin contact for this issue, and posed a scenario question. If an employee is sick for four days and thinks that they have earned those four days as paid sick leave but the employer thinks they haven’t, is this one violation or is it four violations (one per day). They answer was that a violation wasn’t defined so the city doesn’t know. This has been logged in as an official question now.
It’s important because the business could be fined and increasing amount per incident. According to the Rules (Section 6) the business could be fined $150 the first day, $300 the second day and $500 for each day thereafter. I’ll keep you posted on the official answer.
But the more alarming language comes in Section 6B which states that the Administrator(the city employee who oversees the complaint) can increase or decrease the amount of the penalty under certain circumstances. Examples cited are a demonstrated hardship to the business or, on the increased side, a repeat offender. However Section 6B(1)c, states “the Respondent’s (the business) indifference toward…its obligations…” In other words, you can face an increased fine because of your attitude. The ordinance was very punitive to business but this is the only case I know of where fines can increase because of attitude.
This may not be what was intended. Mr. Babiak repeatedly stated that it was for people who clearly weren’t going to follow the policy. But this is one of the results of unintended consequences from an ordinance passed in 17 days. As with so many city policies, what is intended is not necessarily what is implemented. Or is it?