Bill Aims To Bar Local Government From Ordering Employers To Offer Sick Leave

Jan 8, 2013

Advocates for working folk haven’t had a lot of luck establishing a right to paid sick leave in Florida.

WORKING SICK: Tallahassee lawmakers this spring will decide whether to prohibit cities and counties from ordering employers to pay for sick days off.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan's proposal was defeated last year and, in Orlando, Orange County commissioners found a way to avoid a sick time referendum, even though 50,000 residents had won a ballot spot, fair and square, with their signatures on a petition.

Now, two legislative Republicans from the Orlando area have filed a bill in Tallahassee that would prohibit any city or county from requiring mandatory sick leave for workers. Under the proposal sponsored by State Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs and State Rep. Steve  Precourt of Orlando, only the state could require it.

Otherwise, they say, the result would be a statewide "patchwork" of sick time ordinances that would be a headache for businesses with operation in several different localities.

The Orlando Sentinel's reporting draws the outline of the politics against sick pay:

In Orange, Walt Disney World, Darden Restaurants and Mears Transportation all lobbied to kill the sick-time measure. A coalition of business groups also legally challenged the ballot language as misleading.

Orange County GOP Chairman Lew Oliver worked behind the scenes to delay the local referendum. In a newly released text message, he argued that a delay in Orange was necessary so the "Legislature can deliver the kill shot."

The bill's preemption strategy, the "patchwork" argument and the support among low-wage employers are a reminder of the fight over wage theft ordinances that took place in the 2012 Legislative session. It was an employer-led attempt to forcibly repeal Miami-Dade County's ordinance that provides recourse when wages are withheld illegally. And it, too, would have barred any other city or county from enacting a similar law.

The bill failed.

Supporters of mandatory sick leave say it prevents the spread of disease in the workplace by allowing sick workers to stay home. And they say it's a necessary support system for employees who can't work because of illness or who need time off to care for sick children.

Opponents of sick leave say it would burden businesses in a still-shaky economy.

When  the proposed Miami-Dade County sick pay ordinance was defeated and its main sponsor, Commissioner Jordan, promised to revive it later, the Examiner reflected this conservative view:

It is easy for government officials such as Commissioner Jordan to talk about forcing businesses to spend money on unproductive things, especially since she has never had to run a business in her life. Businesses are struggling across the country due to inflation, punitive taxation, and excessive regulations. The loss of customers and wealth is already bad enough for the County to tell the private market how to deal with employees.

Small businesses are most likely the main ones to be hurt with such a legislation, had it passed. Small enterprises depend heavily on the productive capacity of each employee and very often do not earn enough profits to spend on employees that aren't showing up to work. Pressing business owners to waste profits in paying unproductive workers can only hurt them.

In Orlando, the group working for the sick pay ordinance is fighting in court to bring it to a vote. It would require a paid sick leave policy at any bushiness with at least 15 employees.