Business & Economy

New paid sick leave law creates challenges for restaurants

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last September in Los Angeles mandating the paid leave that supporters say will guarantee workers don't lose jobs or salaries if they get sick.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last September in Los Angeles mandating the paid leave that supporters say will guarantee workers don't lose jobs or salaries if they get sick.
Elizabeth Aguilera/KPCC

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On Wednesday, California employers must begin providing all workers at least three days of paid sick leave per year and that's got some small local businesses, like restaurants, grumbling.  

"We’re going to have the cost of the person who’s out, plus pay the overtime of the person who’s covering for the person who’s out," said Maribel Peebles, who manages Tacos Don Chente in Bell Gardens. "It becomes expensive to have people out when they're sick." 

Until now, when one of her 12 workers called in sick, he or she didn't get paid. 

Peebles worries some employees will abuse the policy - mainly younger workers who tend to call in sick on weekends.

"They're usually out partying and they don't feel like coming into work," Peebles said. "Unfortunately, even though the young employee will tell the manager they're sick, the rest of their friends find out they're partying because they posted it on Facebook."  

Governor Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Workplace, Healthy Family Act last September.  The new law began taking affect in January, requiring businesses to begin notifying employees of their paid sick leave rights.

Advocates of the new law estimate some 6.5 million workers - or 40 percent of the state's workforce — will get paid sick leave for the first time.  Many of those are in the restaurant industry, where missing a shift has traditionally meant not being paid.

On Wednesday, employees must begin to accrue those benefits at a rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked. Employers are required to notify workers of how much leave they've accrued with each paycheck. The new law does not cover employees who work under collective bargaining agreements. 

Hugo Aleman, who's been waiting tables at fine dining restaurants for the past 22 years, said there's another side to this debate.

He has worked while sick in the past, as have most restaurant workers. 

"They'd rather not lose that day of pay because they know they're going to come out short later on," Aleman said.  

And that creates the risk the illness will spread to a co-worker - or restaurant patrons.

"Obviously, we don't want a person who can be sick touching food, preparing food for customers," Aleman said.