San Anselmo is requiring small businesses to offer paid sick leave for employees with coronavirus-related absences.
In a special Town Council meeting on Aug. 16, the council voted 4-1 to pass the temporary urgency ordinance. Councilmember Ford Greene voted no.
The ordinance follows the 2020 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a federal law mandating paid sick leave for employees unable to work or telecommute because of COVID-19. It includes a tax credit for reimbursing employers.
On March 19, Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill 95, which requires employers with more than 25 workers to provide COVID-19-related paid sick leave through Sept. 30. Although smaller businesses may take advantage of federal tax credits under the bill, they are not required to provide paid sick leave.
To close the gap, the Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance on June 8 to establish the same paid sick leave requirements for businesses with 25 or fewer employees. It applies to unincorporated areas of the county.
In San Anselmo, businesses with 25 or fewer employees are required to provide paid sick leave at a maximum rate of $511 a day, or $5,110 total, for employees who cannot telework. Paid sick leave is available to employees who need to isolate; experience COVID-19 symptoms; need a diagnosis; have a child care or senior care provider closed because of public health concerns; or need a vaccine.
Vice Mayor Alexis Fineman asked that the ordinance require employers to give notice of the availability of paid sick leave within seven days of its adoption. The financial burden on businesses will be reimbursed by tax credit.
Jack Buckhorn of the North Bay Labor Council supported the ordinance, saying it is “critically important to continue our efforts to make sure folks are vaccinated just so we can end this pandemic.” He added that small business owners can immediately claim tax benefits rather than waiting for reimbursement checks from the government.
But Pat Townsley, owner of Creekside Pizza and Taproom, objected. He said his employees are vaccinated, and he and other businesses are growing tired of more obstacles to staying open.
“I get the need for vaccinations and in a small town where we are already struggling, the cost of everything is going up,” he said. “You can’t find an employee these days. Why is this now urgent?”
He asked the council to consider slowing down and “put something together that has real traction, real meaning … and is not detrimental to small business owners in town.”
Greene agreed, calling the ordinance “a scramble to look good without any real impact.”
“The optics are nice, it makes us look in a superficial way like we care about COVID-19,” he said.
Other businesses were fine with the ordinance’s support for paying employees to take sick days. Taqueria Mi Familia manager Lupita Sanchez said the ordinance shouldn’t be a concern because the eatery is a family business, and the staff trusts the owner will cover their time off for being sick if needed.
“If we’re sick he still pays us … and with COVID-19 we take precautions and everything,” Sanchez said. “If someone were to have it, I’m pretty sure he’ll give them their check.”
Councilmember Eileen Burke suggested extending the urgent ordinance because it is supposed to expire in September. She said businesses will get support “and these employees need our help.”
Mayor Brian Colbert, noting that the urgency ordinance was adopted during an emergency meeting of the council, said he would be hesitant to add an extension without fuller notice to the business community.