DULUTH — By the time the city starts enforcing its mandatory sick leave policy in four months, Ian Johnson should be a well-known figure among local businesses.
As the new enforcer, educator and enabler of the controversial ordinance, Johnson has met with hundreds of people and fielded question after question since joining city staff in May. He’ll face many more at public events and training sessions this fall, including a panel discussion next week in Duluth.
With that groundwork, Johnson is confident employers will be able to adapt to the new requirements the City Council passed last year without too many headaches.
“This has been a bitter pill for people to swallow,” he said. “But in all my research from other cities, other states, it hasn’t been nearly as dire as people feared.”
Duluth’s earned sick and safe time ordinance requires all businesses with five or more employees working in the city to provide a minimum of 40 hours of paid time off up front or let employees accrue their sick and safe time at the rate of at least one hour off for every 50 worked.
That’s just the basics; Johnson has compiled a list of more than 50 what-ifs and hypothetical scenarios to explain how the ordinance will be carried out.
After several years of studying the issue, the measure passed over the objections of many businesses and with the strong support of labor. While Johnson said there is still grumbling about the policy itself, most business owners he has talked to want to comply.
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, which organized opposition to the ordinance, is now helping businesses navigate the new reality.
“Our members are a pragmatic and resilient group,” said chamber President David Ross. “That opposition has been replaced by an eagerness to figure this out.”
Drawing on the experience of other cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, that have passed similar rules, Johnson found that early education efforts were often sorely needed.
“I hope to help people approach next year with more confidence,” he said, and that’s why the city gave him a seven-month head start.
As such he’s had a busy summer on top of raising his two young children with his wife in their new West Duluth home. The 35-year-old Cannon Falls native and Hamline law school graduate most recently worked in compliance with Prestige Beverage Group in Mendota Heights.
When the ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, Johnson, whose official title is code compliance officer, will continue his outreach through “soft enforcement” of complaints as businesses continue to get up to speed with the rules.
“Our first response is going to be tied to mediating disputes and negotiating settlements,” he said. “This is new for a lot of people, and we understand that.”
Johnson will take part in a panel and Q&A from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in downtown Duluth that will be moderated by the Northland Human Resources Association. Those interested can register at northlandhra.org/event-3161762.