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Small Business Squabbles Over Paid Sick Time Laws

"It's gross. Nobody wants to have anyone preparing their food when they're sick," Shallal says.

A lot of Americans get paid sick leave, including many who work at small businesses. A study issued in July by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 66 percent of small businesses, those with up to 499 workers, provided paid sick leave. Among companies with fewer than 50 workers, half provided leave. Eighty-two percent of workers at companies with 500 or more employees have paid sick leave.

Lawmakers have been stepping in to get paid sick leave extended to more workers. San Francisco is widely believed to be the first major city to enact a paid sick leave law. The law, which requires that sick time be given to all workers, took effect in 2007. Since then, Washington, Seattle and Connecticut have enacted laws and Portland's City Council passed its bill on March 13. The laws aren't identical, but all generally provide for workers to accrue sick time and to also use it for family illnesses and some types of emergencies.

Paid sick leave has run into roadblocks in other cities. Philadelphia's City Council passed its bill March 14, but Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed a similar bill in 2011. He hasn't decided yet whether he'll sign the latest bill, spokesman Mark McDonald says. In Milwaukee, voters in 2008 approved a referendum creating a paid sick leave ordinance, but it was nullified by a subsequent state law that banned local governments from enacting such laws. And in New York City, a sick leave law has stalled in its city council.

Opponents of mandatory paid sick leave say that it will hurt small businesses. Some also argue that the government shouldn't intrude in the relationship between companies and their workers.

"Any time you have a government mandate on small businesses, that take away their options, their flexibility," says Andy Markowski, director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Connecticut, where a mandatory sick leave law took effect early last year. "With paid sick leave, a business might not be able to afford a benefit package that has benefits that are generous."

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