San Francisco will become the first city in the country requiring employers to give their workers paid sick leave starting next month. And some there are questioning whether businesses can afford the mandate, especially since it comes on the heels of other new benefits in the workplace.

From San Francisco, NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: At The New York Street Café in San Francisco's Mission District, Janet Joynap(ph) and her co-worker are preparing chicken sausages just before the lunchtime crunch.

Ms. JANET JOYNAP (The New York Street Café): 12:30. Everybody comes at one time, at 12:30, here at The New York Street Café. So, come on in and eat.

GONZALES: Joynap is one of over 100,000 in this city who currently don't get paid sick leave. That will change come February 5th, when all employees, full and part-time, permanent and temporary, will be covered. And they can miss work even when they aren't sick but have to stay home to help a domestic partner or a family member. In Joynap's case, that means caring for her 10-year-old son.

Ms. JOYNAP: You know, sometimes, he's sick. I have to pick him up from school. Or he's not feeling good. He needs the day off. You know? There are a couple of times I just had to leave work. I had to take that chance. That's more important. That's my priority right now. You know? So, you got to do what you got to do.

GONZALES: Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work. There are caps, depending on the size of the business. But businessman Bill Stone foresees a whole new set of bookkeeping headaches and added expenses to cover his 21 employees. Stone runs the nearby Atlas Café.

Ms. BILL STONE (Owner, Atlas Café): Basically, it's just going to make it more expensive to operate your business. And really, what's going to have to happen with that is that small business owners are going to have to pass that cost on to their customers, which is fine if everybody wants to have these kinds of things.

GONZALES: Many details of the new law still mystify some employers such as when and how employees can use their accrued sick leave, says Attorney Nancy Burner.

Attorney NANCY BURNER: Part of what I'm hearing is simple is confusion. They call up and say, what is it that I have to do to comply. And it's not entirely clear. You know? I tried to give them the most conservative advice because I want them to comply and they really want to comply. But it's come up so quickly. You know? It was on the ballot in November and now, by February 5th, it's law.

GONZALES: Supporters if the new sick leave law dismissed that complaint, saying that its merits were aired out during the November campaign, which was engineered by a coalition of mostly young restaurant workers. San Francisco County Supervisor Chris Daly, who wrote the new law, says it is a benefit to public health.

Mr. CHRIS DALY (Supervisor, San Francisco County): Especially in the flu time of the year, which is right now. Folks who are sick, especially with the flu, you don't want them to go to work. You want them to stay home and get better and not, you know, get their co-workers and customers sick.

GONZALES: Still, the new law comes after San Francisco hiked its minimum wage to $9.14 an hour. That's the highest local minimum wage in America. And the city still hasn't phased in its requirement for employers to provide health coverage. Atlas Café owner Bill Stone says all these things combined could strangle small businesses in an already expensive city.

Mr. STONE: If we want independent restaurants and independent stores and shops, you have to make it possible for small businesses to survive, not just the big guys like Starbucks and like Wal-Mart and all those things that everybody hates so much. But they've got, you know, if you make it too hard to run a small business, only the big guys are going to be able to do it.

GONZALES: Meanwhile, city officials are taking steps to publicize the new law, which looks to further cement San Francisco's reputation as a social laboratory.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from