Other states push sick-leave laws

Lawmakers in 12 states — including California, Connecticut, Minnesota and West Virginia — have proposed legislation in the past year that would require businesses to provide them, but there doesn’t seem to be a push for Nevada to join that group.

Several Nevada legislators didn’t return phone calls before press time to comment on whether they expect employee-rights groups to propose laws mandating paid sick time in the Silver State.

But one local labor attorney said he knows of no push in the state to require paid sick days.

Mark Ricciardi, managing partner of the Las Vegas office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips, said Nevada’s big share of tip workers makes it unlikely a sick-pay bill would emerge as a priority for any lawmaker or workers’ group. That’s because tipped workers typically earn minimum-wage salaries as base pay, with the bulk of their income coming from gratuities. With so few sick-pay upsides for so many area workers, don’t expect much impetus for mandated sick pay, Ricciardi said.

That’s a relief to some local business owners.

Justin Micatrotto, a partner in Micatrotto Restaurant Group of Las Vegas, said he sees potential for abuse in mandated sick pay.

Micatrotto Restaurant Group, which owns three Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers restaurants here and owns a fourth under construction, employs a sizable number of part-time workers who hold second jobs. The company already feels the fallout of last-minute phone-ins from hourly employees who miss shifts because they stayed late at their other post, or they’re too tired to take on hours at Raising Cane’s, Micatrotto said. He said he’s concerned that some employees would exploit paid sick time off when they weren’t truly, unexpectedly ill.

Micatrotto said he’d be more comfortable with a law that would require employees to document illness to merit sick pay. He’d also like to see "recourse" for employers who want to void sick pay when workers fail to back up claims of illness.

"Employers should definitely look at (paid sick time) if there are checks and balances, and if there’s some onus on an employee to stay at a single place to get those rights," Micatrotto said. "Companies won’t shy away from it if it helps loyal employees."

Businesses — especially small companies — argue that forcing them to offer paid sick days hinders their ability to provide a flexible array of benefits, such as a mix of vacation and personal days that also may be used by employees when they are sick. And they say it’s a costly new mandate for businesses already struggling through a contracting economy.

Kara Kelley, president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said her group opposes laws forcing sick pay.

The most employee-friendly policies allow workers to choose how they use any paid time off, rather than compelling them to set aside time for sick days, she said. That’s why many companies, including the chamber, stopped separating vacation days and sick time years ago.

"When you have paid sick time, you penalize the supermajority of employees who tend to be healthy throughout the year," Kelley said. "What many employers did was tell employees all their time off was theirs to use as they saw fit. That provides not only incentives to employees for healthy behaviors, but it also rewards the majority of employees who stay healthy throughout the year."

Bills requiring paid sick days were rejected or allowed to die in several state legislatures. Maine lawmakers rejected a paid sick leave bill. And for the second consecutive year, legislation died in the Connecticut House of Representatives after the state Senate passed it, leading a key Senate backer to say she’s lost hope.

But in several other states — Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia — legislation failed when lawmakers refused to take up paid sick leave bills before legislative deadlines passed, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. In California, legislation passed the Assembly but is dead for the legislative session after being held in a Senate committee. The bill’s author said she plans to reintroduce it next year.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 43 percent of the private industry labor force worked in 2007 without paid sick time, a group primarily made up of low-paid employees at small businesses.

"Very often these are the jobs where people are living very close to the bone," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "Workers are sometimes putting their jobs on the line because they have a sick child or are sick."

Workers advocates’ have been pushing the issue since 1993, when the Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law, requiring employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year. While federal legislation was first proposed in 2004, it may have a shot at passing next year if Democrats control the White House and Congress after the November elections, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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