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Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Time if I Work for a Small Business?

This week our receptionist has been out because her 6 year old daughter fell ill and ended up in the hospital. We are a small law firm of 10 people, but we all fill in by taking turns answering the phones and greeting clients. But other businesses may not be so accommodating, and might not tolerate an employee who takes off substantial time to care for a sick relative. But wait, you might ask; isn't there a law?

Yes there is a law, known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives eligible employees a right to twelve work weeks of leave in order to care for a spouse, child, or parent of an employee. But there is a catch: only employers of fifty or more employees are subject to the act, even though a majority of businesses in this country are smaller than that. In New York, we have a law that applies to businesses of 15 or more employees, still leaving a large number of workers uncovered.

In January, Mayor De Blasio proposed a law which would require businesses with five or more employees to provide up to five compensated days off to full-time workers if they, or their family members, fell ill. The benefits would accrue for 360,000 more New Yorkers, and affect 40,000 more employers, than the previous version. The new law also requires workers be paid on days spent caring for sick siblings, grandchildren and grandparents. The new law, if it passes, would take effect in April.

Businesses are expected to object to the law, claiming that it will force them to close. But in other cities, including San Francisco, where sick-leave laws are already in effect, there have been few reports of businesses forced to close or lay off workers because of the requirement.

Let's hope the law passes. Small businesses, like our firm, can handle the inconvenience to make life better for our employees.

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