My husband and I own a small take-out restaurant, bakery and catering company in downtown Raleigh called The Square Rabbit. We have been in business for 24 years.
Over the years we have tended to carry between nine and 15 full-time employees and several part-time employees. We offer paid sick days to our full-timers. I have worked in food service for others and for myself my entire adult life, so I see this issue from the perspective of both an employer and an employee.
Choosing to operate a small business is not an easy path to take. Small business people are tough and have to make a lot of hard decisions. Deciding to offer paid sick leave was not a tough decision. It never occurred to us not to do it.
There is a bill before the North Carolina General Assembly now that would allow working North Carolinians to earn paid sick days. I think the title of the bill says a great deal about why we need it: “An act providing for healthy families and healthy workplaces by ensuring that all workers have earned paid sick days to address their own health needs and the needs of their families.”
Never miss a local story.
Let me start with “Healthy Workplaces.” Now, it is true that in my business having to pay a sick day also means having to pay someone to cover the shift —the work we do doesn’t pile up on a desk until someone is well. In essence I am paying twice.
But if a sick employee reports to work they risk passing on their illness to the rest of the staff. If I have 15 people scheduled to work and four of them are out sick at the same time, I have problems. I have a problem with morale. I have a problem with efficiency. I have a problem with product consistency. And I have a problem with quality of customer service.
All of that is still nothing compared to the risk of a sick employee spreading a food-borne illness. I see paid sick days as a food safety precaution.
Now let’s talk about “Healthy Families”:
Employees have to be able to take care of their family responsibilities.
For the sake of argument, let’s say a mom earns $10 per hour, keeping in mind of course that many people earn much less. Let’s say that she has found a living situation that she can afford on that amount of money. It affords no movie nights, no shopping sprees — but she has a roof over her head and can feed and clothe her children.
Now let’s say her child is sick and vomiting and needs to see a doctor and this mother has no paid sick days. She will be losing a day’s pay right off the bat.
Now remember, this mother is barely covering her living expenses. She doesn’t have a car. She cannot take this sick child on the bus. She will most likely have to call a taxi. Now she is spending tomorrow’s money. If there are prescriptions, that taxi needs to take her to the drugstore where more money will be spent. Let’s say the doctor orders the child to stay home from school for a couple of days. If no family is available to help and she cannot pay a babysitter — even if she could find one on short notice — she is going to miss two more days of work. Remember she has already spent a day’s pay by this time.
What happens? Now she cannot meet her living expenses and a downward spiral of trying to play catch-up begins.
This brings me to one more part of this bill’s title—the word “earned.” As a business owner, I am not out handing out sick pay willy-nilly. My employees are earning it.
Being a small business owner is tough. The right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do. Our employees need the flexibility to be able to care for themselves and their families. Paid sick days keep our staff healthier and our product safer. It is the right thing to do, for business owner and employee alike.
Rebecca Llewellyn is a longtime business owner based in downtown Raleigh.