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As Minneapolis considers earned sick time ordinance, let’s learn from small business experience elsewhere

Since starting to offer earned sick pay, I have not experienced any turnover. I have also seen a noticeable change in efficiency.

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey — As a native Minnesotan with most of my family in the Twin Cities, I have been watching the debate surrounding earned sick days in Minneapolis closely. I own a small business in Jersey City and was part of the process of passing and implementing an earned-sick-day policy here. I urge the city of Minneapolis and its business owners to take some lessons we learned regarding the policy’s impact and create the best plan possible the first time around.

Tony Sandkamp

In Jersey City our ordinance passed in 2013, including an exemption for “micro-businesses” with fewer than 10 employees. Many business owners that fit such a definition, including me, decided to put a policy on the books anyway to match what our larger competitors were offering.

Immediately I saw that the benefits far outweigh the cost, as did others. So much so that after reviewing the impact on the economy overall, our city council realized that it was a mistake to limit implementation and recently expanded the ordinance to include businesses of all sizes.

Minneapolis should learn from our experience and make sure that as many workers as possible are included from day one.

I am a reasonable guy, and I wouldn’t be in business if I weren’t focused on my bottom line. When my city proposed a policy that could have applied to my woodworking shop, believe me, I looked at the numbers. My employees could earn one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to five days a year. For an employee working full time at minimum wage, $8.38 here in New Jersey, the policy would cost about 16 cents an hour, capping out at $335 per year. The numbers checked out, so I decided to implement the paid-sick-day policy at my shop, even though the law didn’t apply to me at the time. And I am glad I did.

The result: no turnover, higher efficiency

Since starting to offer earned sick pay, I have not experienced any turnover. Every single employee that was with me in 2013 is with me now. Employee acquisition, hiring, and training costs don’t show up on my balance sheet anymore. Decreased turnover alone covers the cost of providing my employees with the opportunity to earn paid sick days. 

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I have also seen a noticeable change in efficiency. When employees come to work sick, they don’t produce like they do when they are well. When team members come to work sick, they are far more likely to make costly mistakes and extend project time, easily outweighing the cost of allowing them to take the day off. 

Since enacting an earned sick days policy, I have not had a single injury occur in my shop or the field. When a business forces employees to choose between paying their bills and coming to work sick, they will end up going to work when they otherwise shouldn’t. When working sick, employees are much more likely to injure themselves or someone else — not to mention the likelihood of them spreading their illness to co-workers and customers.

And I haven’t seen any abuse of the policy in my shop. In fact, most of my employees end each year with some sick days left over. This is one of the results of the changes that I didn’t expect — my employees care more about the company. I’ve shown them that I am concerned with their health and well-being, and they return the favor on a daily basis by working hard and coming in for every shift that they are able.

Positive impact across the board

These benefits didn’t just work for me; they have had a positive impact across the board. Our local businesses didn’t move across the river to Bayonne or Newark. In fact, Newark implemented a policy shortly after Jersey City, and within a few years, eight additional New Jersey cities have followed suit. 

More than anything, when I think of my hometown I think of people with common sense and business sense, and earned sick and safe time appeals to both. As Minneapolis considers implementation, I encourage city council members to look to small business owners to lead the way. For my business, providing access to earned sick days was and is a no-brainer.

Tony Sandkamp owns Sandkamp Woodworks in Jersey City and is a member of the Main Street Alliance of New Jersey.

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