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This small-business owner welcomes earned sick time

September 2, 2012

Orange County voters will likely have the opportunity to enact an earned sick-time initiative this November. As a small-business owner, I’m eager to throw my support behind this cost-effective policy that benefits both workers and businesses.

I’m the co-owner of Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando, and I’m familiar with the challenges of running a small business, but also the rewards. We have a small, dedicated staff that is essential to our success. Offering employees earned sick time gives me the chance to support their hard-work efforts and build the trust and loyalty a small business needs to prosper.

For the business, the added benefits of reducing employee turnover and the costs associated with hiring and training new employees are essential. The earned sick-time initiative will bolster the corevalues of small businesses by promoting a happy and healthy workplace. My small business sees this as such a no-brainer that we already offer this without being legally required to do so. If my small business can do it, there is no reason that medium- and big-business employers shouldn’t be required to show such care and consideration for the people who make their businesses run.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 45.8 percent of Orange County’s private-sector employees — more than a quarter-million area workers — do not have access to any earned sick time. And among the lowest wage earners the numbers are startling — 81 percent nationally by some estimates.

Without earned sick time, workers across Orange County will continue having to choose between their health and their jobs, going to work while sick, sending their children to school and in many cases, getting fired for taking time off to recover or seek medical attention for themselves or a family member.

That’s not the type of community we want or the kind of business ethic we need. The earned sick-time initiative will strengthen job and wage security for workers in Orange County.

Orange County’s Hispanic community stands to gain a great deal from this initiative. More than half of the area’s Hispanic workers, including more than 56 percent of Hispanic men, are estimated to lack access to any earned sick time. Not surprisingly, a 2010 survey of Hispanic adults revealed that 80 percent believe earned sick time should be a “basic worker’s right.”

Access to earned sick time is particularly important to a county as financially dependent on tourism as ours. With more than 50 million visitors a year, having a contagious service industry is harmful — and more than three in four food-service and hotel workers (78 percent) don’t get a single earned sick day.

Earned sick time allows sick workers to recuperate at home, preventing the spread of illness, and helps ensure that visitors enjoy their stay in Orange County.

Opponents falsely claim that this initiative would be bad for Orange County businesses. There’s no evidence of that, and they don’t speak for me or for the growing number of small business owners who support this initiative.

The initiative has many built-in protections for small businesses like my own: Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from providing paid sick days, and workers have to be employed for at least 90 days before they can start earning sick time. There would be a 56-hour cap on sick time per employee per year, and employers are not required to reimburse employees for unused paid time off.

I’m glad these protections are included, but many small-business owners like myself are already doing some version of earned sick time, even if it’s just on a case-by-case basis to keep the backbone of our businesses strong.

Now more than ever, Orange County must find ways to create jobs and reduce unemployment. This common-sense proposal will help businesses retain good employees, give greater financial stability to workers and their families, ensure they have money to spend on Orange County goods and services, strengthen the economic security of our county and protect our health and safety.

When you consider the benefits to families and small businesses versus any of the small costs incurred by businesses implementing this policy, the decision is clear.

Please vote yes on the earned sick-time initiative this November.

Julie Norris is co-owner of Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando.