Business owner's view: Earned safe and sick time good for employees, businesses

Duluth's Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force recently held its last public-input session. Now it's time for a recommendation and for Duluth city councilors to consider a sensible policy.

Duluth's Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force recently held its last public-input session. Now it's time for a recommendation and for Duluth city councilors to consider a sensible policy.

As they do, I'm compelled to share my experience with other local business owners. After attending a few listening sessions, I can speak to common concerns. As a co-owner of a small business which, six years ago, chose to add sick leave, I've seen how the benefit outweighs the costs - not from a place of speculation but from experience.

It's good for business.

It is essentially an "insurance" for employees and employers. We know that without earned sick and safe time, employees will come to work sick because they can't afford to lose pay. I have done the same.

If someone does miss work for sickness, I understand that many employers try to help them pick up extra shifts to make up for lost wages. This is problematic for several reasons. It puts the burden on management to find the shifts. It presumes that an employee will be upfront about the sickness. And it often doesn't time itself within the confines of a pay period, which doesn't help with current bills. Also, it still costs money. If an employer is willing to provide extra shifts for employees, then that employer also is willing to spend some extra money. A voluntary benefit isn't going to positively impact our employees' access to earned sick and safe time, because that is basically what we have now. A mandatory benefit will.


Providing a safe-and-sick-leave benefit doesn't have to be expensive. In our case, this cost us an eight-hour work day per 65-plus employees per year (about $8,000 in 2016), although employees are eligible for up to five days. In fact, during the first pay period of July, we had zero hours of sick leave paid. Zero. Even though all our employees were eligible.

Our employees are still enjoying the summer in all the ways people do: skating the streets, at the beach with their kids, biking the trails, likely staying up late. We don't see a misuse of this benefit, and we assume other businesses won't, either.

We use a common business-management software to administer our policy. The only somewhat cumbersome part is tracking hire dates, so we recently simplified our policy to allow the use of earned sick and safe time upon hire.

Though we made our policy more flexible, we encourage the Duluth ordinance to have employees accrue earned sick and safe time upon hire with a time period then before the benefit can be used. This would allow the benefit to be phased in and earned immediately. And it would provide incentive for retaining employment.

Ultimately, we hope employers find, like we did, that the benefit is easier and most effective when provided immediately - earned and allowed.

We are convinced earned sick and safe time is good for business. We have employees who can stay home when sick, our customers benefit from having a healthier business serving them, and we are able to retain employees who appreciate the benefit. Happy, healthy employees and customers mean improved business. Do you really want someone who should be home sick making your sandwich? Serving your margarita? Caring for your child? Neither do we, and neither do the employees.

Our community can be proud of its labor history. We are home to many ideas and regulations that changed our nation's workforce. We are a population of talented, creative, hard-working, and innovative people. Let's keep on track with our legacy and take a step forward for our workers.

Lynn Goerdt is a co-owner of Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth.

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