Achoo! Right on my salad

I run a small business, and here’s why I provide paid sick leave to my employees, explains HEATHER A. KNEISS

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I own a local, eco-friendly cleaning business based in Shadyside that is unusual in several ways. First, we avoid the use of toxic chemicals in cleaning the homes and businesses where people work and live. And second, we have a paid-sick-leave policy for our employees.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute. Doesn’t everyone get time off when they are sick? Isn’t that simply an earned benefit of working?”

Think again. In Pennsylvania, four of every 10 workers don’t have paid sick leave. That number is even higher — eight in 10 — for people in low-wage jobs, like restaurant work.

(Consider this next time you’re out at lunch and order a salad. How many hands chopped the lettuce and tomatoes, washed the bowl it comes in and carried it to your table? Suddenly, the idea that restaurant workers should be encouraged to stay home when they are sick sounds pretty appealing, huh?)

However, right now in Pennsylvania there are legislators in Harrisburg who are pushing a bill (House Bill 1960) that would block local governments from enacting laws that would require businesses to provide earned sick leave to their employees.

Let’s put aside for a moment the whole idea of local control and the fact that towns and cities should be able to pass the laws they want. Instead, I want to focus on why earned sick days is a smart policy for my small business.

We’re a small, hardworking company. Shiny Happy Cleaners has seven employees and in a typical week we clean 45 properties. Our employee turnover is low, especially compared with the industry standard.

Employees spend an average of 1.5 years at our company, and my current employees collectively have been with the business for more than 11 years. Our employees stay with the company because we take care of them — and that includes offering earned sick leave and paid vacation.

One of the largest up-front costs in any service business is training new employees. The more experienced and stable my work force, the less time spent training and the more I can focus my attention on managing and growing the business. Offering decent benefits helps me keep those experienced employees, and, at the end of the day, that is what makes a small business thrive.

But across the service industry, businesses with no earned sick leave often fire or penalize employees for missing work no matter the reason — never mind if an employee has the flu or his or her child is sick. To me, not offering the basic right of earned sick leave not only is morally wrong, it also doesn’t make a lick of business sense.

Can you imagine losing your job just for getting sick and failing to report to work? How loyal would you feel toward your company if you faced with that possibility? How stable would you consider your job situation? Getting sick is lousy enough without having to worry about missing pay or potentially getting fired for having the flu.

And, by the way: As you enjoy that salad, ponder this: How many waiters and waitresses and busboys and cooks and dishwashers are reporting to work today, in Pittsburgh, with a nasty cold or the flu because if they don’t come in they don’t get paid or could get fired? How many people will get sick after they are served? Will you get sick?

To me, this is a no-brainer. Paid sick days are good for business, good for public health, good for families and good for workers. The crowd in Harrisburg needs to get out of the way and let cities do what’s right.

Heather A. Kniess is owner-operator of Shiny Happy Cleaners, which she founded in 2007. She lives in Point Breeze.

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