The city council just adopted legislation requiring most businesses in Seattle to provide paid  time off for employees to stay home sick, care for family members, or deal with the consequences of domestic violence, with only one council member---council president Richard Conlin---voting against the much-amended legislation.

The version of the sick-leave bill adopted today is watered down significantly from the original proposal. It exempts businesses with five or fewer employees (about 39,000 employees citywide), allows businesses with unionized workers to "develop alternate means of meeting the policy goals underlying the paid leave requirements established by this ordinance" through collective bargaining, and limits shift swapping in lieu of sick leave to restaurants, as opposed to all businesses, among other changes.

The legislation also requires the city to evaluate the impact of the law on businesses after it's been in effect for one year.

"As a mother, I cannot help but have the feeling that a lack of paid sick leave disproportionately impacts women," council member Jean Godden said, recalling her days a restaurant reviewer for the Seattle P-I, when most of the people who served her were women. Council member Sally Bagshaw added: "Life happens. I raised two sons myself and I also was a daughter that took care of my 91-year-old father the last year of his life, and I believe some flexibility [to take time off] is critical."

Even council who had been skeptical about the proposal said they were now comfortable supporting it. "The assurance that I need to give people in the business community ... is that the council is fully cognizant of the fact that we have to have policies to encouragea healthy business environment," Bruce Harrell said. "I do see this as  good policy. If this  was bad policy, I would oppose it and I would oppose it loudly."

Conlin, the only "no" vote on the council, said he could not support the legislation because it gives management too much power to bargain away union workers' rights, and because it creates tiers of companies where employees of larger companies get more time off than those who work at smaller businesses. "If you're a barista and you work for a small neighborhood company, you may get no sick leave" while employees at larger companies get as much as nine days, Conlin said. "There's no public health reason to suggest that those who work for larger businesses will get sick more often."
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