Vote down sick-day measure

August 11, 2018 GMT

Ideally, employers would pay their employees for sick days when they are genuinely ill. But there are legitimate reasons that smaller business have problems doing this. If this is the goal, the proper body to address it is the Texas Legislature.

Organizers have produced enough signatures to place a measure on the San Antonio ballot. Austin enacted this previously. The San Antonio City Council now must choose whether to simply enact it or place it on the ballot. This is a decision likely by Thursday, the council’s last scheduled meeting before Aug. 20, the deadline to get the measure on the fall ballot.


The council shouldn’t enact it, and if it gets to the November ballot, voters should reject it.

The measure would require private employers with 15 or fewer employees to provide six paid sick days a year, larger businesses eight. These could be used for the workers’ own illness, or a family member’s physical or mental illness. They also could be used for preventive care, to take legal action, to move, or to obtain services related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

We are not unsympathetic to the estimated 354,000 San Antonians — roughly 39 percent of the workforce — without paid sick days. We do indeed believe that, faced with their own illnesses or that of one of their children, the stark choice for too many is to work or not get paid. And since most of these workers are concentrated in lower-paid jobs, this is a draconian choice — between getting paid or not buying sufficient groceries, for instance, or keeping the electricity on.

We’re also confident, however, that smart business owners provide options — shift swaps, for instance — to mitigate this. And we believe, from our own observances through the years, that some people will call in sick when they aren’t ill to craft three-day weekends or — in the service industry where these more rarely occur — two consecutive days off. We suspect that businesses that start providing paid sick days will suddenly see a spike in absenteeism, but they should also mull whether this is because people who were genuinely sick before and still went to work are now staying home.

But sick-day scamming is largely beside the point. There are, unfortunately, a minority of employees who will exploit any benefit loophole, and companies should have mechanisms to deal with these workers.

Among our concerns is the narrowness of this measure. Such measures enacted in this city, but not that city, will create a patchwork of communities that will make some businesses unable to eke out profit without eliminating jobs or cutting other benefits.


This is why this is a measure best left to the Legislature.

We understand the attraction of a city-by-city approach to some measures. On items such as smoking bans and bans on using cellphones while driving, the Texas Legislature has been notoriously slow to act — if it acts at all. But paid sick leave is substantively unlike other issues. It may marginally be a public health issue, but not quite in the same way as smoking in public places. It doesn’t kill or maim as talking on cellphones or texting while driving does. It isn’t a tree ordinance or a plastic bag ban. Local communities should be able to protect and beautify their own environments.

In any case, here’s what else voters should recognize. If this measure wins at the ballot box, it will largely be a symbolic victory for proponents. Legislators are already gearing up to pre-empt local ordinances. They will pull the trigger.

Want to prevent that? That, too, is a matter for the ballot box — as in changing the makeup of the Legislature. But, for the moment, we don’t believe measures on paid sick days belong at the local level.