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Mandatory paid sick leave could turn into a legal and administrative headache for corporate America, according to employment attorneys. On Feb. 5, a San Francisco ordinance mandating paid sick leave went into effect. Legislation has been introduced that would give city businesses a four-month grace period before paying for the mandated sick leave. Seven states are expected to follow suit this year with similar legislation mandating paid sick days. They are Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Wisconsin. Congress also is considering legislation that would require employers with at least 15 workers to offer seven paid sick days annually to employees. Employment attorneys representing management say such laws will trigger more lawsuits and create technical and administrative nightmares for companies, particularly those that use temporary workers who might also be entitled to paid sick days. “Any new law that impacts the work force is going to spark new litigation,” said Maria Anastas, a labor and employment attorney in the San Francisco office of Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine. Anastas said that employers either won’t pay attention to sick-leave mandates, or they’ll misinterpret them-and consequently expose themselves to legal claims. She said that small businesses are especially at risk of being sued over mandatory paid sick leave, noting that small companies-including law offices-typically don’t employ human resource professionals. Consequently, they might not be aware of new labor laws and could be exposed to legal claims, she said. Employment attorney Wayne Hersh of Berger Kahn in Irvine, Calif., echoed her concerns. “You’ve got all these employers running around saying, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t know anything about this,’ ” he said. “ If I’m running the Mom-and-Pop dry cleaner, a restaurant or janitorial service, I may not do anything about this at all.” In Wisconsin, the state and the capital city of Madison are expected to enact sick-day laws, including one that would guarantee eight to nine paid sick days per year to all workers in Madison. Such a measure was narrowly defeated last year by the Madison City Council, but labor groups are pushing for the proposal again this year. In Washington, the state House of Representatives and Senate introduced identical paid sick-leave bills last year that would have guaranteed employees at least 40 hours of paid sick leave for each six months of full-time work. The bills never made it out of committee, but are expected to resurface this year. In the United States, nearly 60 million workers-about half of all employees-do not get paid sick leave, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. But Hersh argued that mandating paid sick leave opens up a slew of workplace claims, including cases in which employees allege they were wrongfully denied paid leave, or that they were fired or demoted for seeking the time off. Not if employers just follow the rules, countered Cliff Palefsky, an employee-rights attorney who believes that the business community is overreacting to mandatory paid sick leave. “Every time there is a discussion about imposing a minimum wage or [mandatory] health care, you hear, ‘The sky is falling. It’s a job killer.’ And those predictions don’t ever seem to come true,” said Palefsky of San Francisco’s McGuinn Hillsman & Palefsky.

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