The city of Minneapolis has cited more than 60 employers since July for failing to abide by a new ordinance that guarantees workers an allotment of sick days without retribution from management.
The infractions range from minor oversights — such as not posting the new rules inside the business — to more significant, such as denying mandatory sick days to employees even after being contacted by city inspectors.
Because the ordinance is so new, the city won't start issuing fines to violators until July. But some have still paid.
Global packaging distributor UPS agreed to reimburse double back pay to employees who were not allowed to take sick days leading up to the busy holiday season, according to the charges. After investigators received multiple allegations from employees, they sent a letter to UPS' North East Minneapolis branch warning they were not in compliance. After the city charged it with violating the ordinance, UPS agreed to settlement terms in January.
In a statement, UPS spokesman Matt O'Connor said the company provides "generous employee benefits" and is working with the city to come into compliance. "UPS is training our management employees on how to administer the Minneapolis sick and safe time ordinance, and we appreciate the city's efforts to help us comply with this law," he said.
The city cited the Star Tribune after an anonymous tipster complained about a supervisor who had posted a sign in the printing plant that appeared to discourage employees from taking time off, according to city records.
The city found no wrongdoing by the supervisor, who took down the sign, records show. But the city cited the Star Tribune for time-off policies that did not comply with city rules.
The city is now negotiating with the company's management on rewording specific labor contract language, said Minneapolis spokesman Casper Hill.
"The City of Minneapolis has advised us that they want edits made to the PTO policy language in one of our collective bargaining agreements, and we are working collaboratively with the city to ensure our written policies are in compliance," said Star Tribune spokesman Steve Yaeger.
Metro Petro & Car Wash paid $11,000 in lost wages to settle with employee Greg James. In September 2017, James called in, saying he had come down with a bad cold, but his boss said he had to give at least six hours' notice to call in sick, according to allegations in a charging document. When James couldn't find another worker to fill in, his boss suspended him for a week and then stopped putting him on the schedule. With no paycheck, James couldn't pay rent, and his landlord evicted him.
The owner of Metro Petro, Mia Lambert, did not respond to a request for comment.
Lickety Split paid $500 to settle a claim against an employee who claimed the downtown sex-oriented shop retaliated against workers for calling in sick and asked them to bring in a note in order to take off ill, even though the ordinance allows managers to ask this only in absences of four or more days.
Lickety Split owner Dennis Buchanan said the allegations came from an employee fired for performance issues unrelated to the ordinance, and "she blamed it on the sick time, which wasn't what happened." In settling, Buchanan didn't admit guilt but paid in order to resolve the allegations amicably, according to city documents.
Buchanan said his shop is in full compliance, and he's in favor of the ordinance, even though it's harder on small businesses like his. "It makes it difficult if someone calls in sick an hour before their shift and I can't even ask them why," he said. "But I'm all for the law, and we're just trying to navigate it like anyone else."
A learning curve
The Minneapolis City Council approved the sick time ordinance in 2016, billing it as a necessary measure to limit the spread of contagions and to protect the health of city workers and their families.
Beginning July 1, 2017, employees who spend at least 80 hours per calendar year working in Minneapolis accrue a minimum of one hour guaranteed time off for every 30 hours worked. The law applies to full-time, part-time, temporary employees and paid interns. Businesses of six or more workers are required to offer paid sick time; smaller companies have the option to make it unpaid. They are also required to post the rules where employees can see them.
In the first seven months of the ordinance going into effect, the city has been working on a learning curve with businesses still trying to understand what's now required, said Brian Walsh, enforcement supervisor for the city's labor standards department.
The city has received at least 113 complaints, Walsh said. Of those, 17 were outside the city's jurisdiction, more than 60 had merit and many are still under investigation, city officials said.
In most cases, the city's role is simply to educate the business owners, Walsh said.
This was the case for A Baker's Wife, the pastry shop in south Minneapolis. In September, a civil rights investigator bought a doughnut from the shop and asked the cashier if the business had implemented the new policies. The worker said the owner had not mentioned the sick-time ordinance and did not post any kind of sign inside the business, according to notes from the investigator. In November, the city sent a letter to bakery owner Olga Shogren saying her business had 30 days to get into compliance.
In an interview, Shogren said she did not know about the new law until the city told her she'd broken it. "As soon as the city of Minneapolis followed up with us, we went back and updated the information in our system," she said. "It's a great law for employees because it gives them a cushion to have a normal life."
Shogren said she's since been in compliance. Her employees have appreciated the guaranteed time off, she said.