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Aldermen Seek Mandatory Sick Time For All Chicago Workers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A proposed ordinance backed by most of the City Council would require employers in the city to provide paid sick leave for most of their workers.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor reports the measure was sponsored by Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), and has the backing of at least 26 of the 50 aldermen.

Moreno said the measure would benefit workers and employers alike.

"This is a pro-business ordinance. We want healthy workers. We want workers who are going to stay with your company for a long time, and not switch companies back and forth," he said.

The measure would apply to every employer in the city, even parents who hire a single childcare worker to watch their kids at home.

Workers would be able to accrue sick time after their first 30 hours on the job. For every 30 hours they work, they would get an hour of earned sick time. The ordinance would limit sick days to five per year for small employers – businesses with less than 10 workers – and nine sick days per year for other employers. However, employers could set higher limits on sick days if they choose.

Employers also would be allowed to set a minimum amount of sick time a worker could take on any given day, but that minimum could be no more than four hours.

Advocates said when workers don't get any sick days, they're forced to choose between going to work when they're ill and possibly getting co-workers sick, or staying home to get better, but losing a paycheck for that day, and possibly their job.

Anne Ladkey, executive director of Women Employed, said while most workers in the city might have some sick days, there are still plenty who don't have that basic protection on their job.

"A lot of Chicago workers do have this very common-sense employment benefit, but in Chicago over 40 percent of private sector workers – that's almost half a million people – don't have a single paid sick day," she said.

Carlos Romero, an organizer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center, said that statistic hits home.

"I used to work at a deli where I had to come in sick. I had a 102 fever. I did not want to go into work. I wanted to go to the doctor, but they told me if I did not come in, I would lose my job," he said.

Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who once worked in a bakery at a Jewel supermarket, said she once went to work with the chicken pox because she didn't get paid sick days.

"Everyone is at risk when people are forced to go to work sick," she said.

Business groups said small businesses could suffer under a requirement to provide sick days to every employee.

Under the ordinance, sick days could be used for personal illnesses, to care for sick relatives, or to go to the doctor for preventive or diagnostic treatment. Workers also could use sick days if they or a family member are the victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Employers would be allowed to require a doctor's note if an employee uses sick days for more than three work days in a row, and could require seven days' notice for any "foreseeable" use of sick time.

Employers would not be required to reimburse workers for unused sick days when they are fired, quit, or retire.

Businesses that improperly deny any worker sick leave would be required to pay the employee $500 and also pay the city a $500 fine for the first offense. Fines would double for a second offense, and triple for a third. Workers also could take their employers to court for violating the sick leave requirements of the ordinance.

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