More than 100 small business owners and employees packed a lunchtime listening session on Thursday to offer their input on a citywide sick-leave policy in Minneapolis. 

It was the third of 13 listening sessions that will be held this month by the Workplace Partnership Group, a 19-member panel tasked with coming up with a sick-leave proposal for businesses in the city. The group is scheduled to forward its plan on to the City Council in late February.

Thursday's discussion, held in a theater at Uptown's Bryant-Lake Bowl, echoed many of the public comment sessions held in late 2015, after Mayor Betsy Hodges introduced a slate of proposals on workplace scheduling, sick leave and wage theft.

The mayor and supportive council members said the reforms would have a major impact on the city’s racial and economic disparities. Many small-business owners said at the time that the plans were out of touch with the realities of their shops and restaurants — and could put some out of business.

Several business owners said a sick-leave ordinance would need to be tailored to recognize the special demands of smaller operations, where a worker’s absence has more of an impact than at a larger company. Others worried about having to raise prices and losing a competitive edge in hiring.

Dick Henke, owner of The Malt Shop in southwest Minneapolis, said he’s been in business for 40 years and has created his own policies to accommodate workers. He doesn’t welcome the idea of a city ordinance.

“We don’t need it,” he said. “Our employees are not asking for this. Most employees are happy with small businesses managed by people who care about their businesses and care about their employees.”

Other employers said any policy should only apply to workers who have put in a significant amount of time, such a six months on a job, or 1,000 hours. Some wondered how policies would apply to contracted, seasonal or temporary employees.

KB Brown, owner of Wolfpack Promotionals, said he knows that some workers risk significant consequences if they have to stay home while ill. Previously, as a manager at a Chipotle, he saw workers lose their jobs because they were sick.

But as the owner of a very small business, he said he also understands the concerns and considerations of business owners.

“On one hand I see there needs to be some type of safeguards for the employees, but as a business owner I’d also like to see safeguards for the employer,” he said.

The Workplace Partnership Group plans to take the feedback gathered at the listening sessions and sort out its recommendations next month. It has not yet been determined which businesses would be affected, or if any would be exempt.

Sick-leave laws have been implemented in 21 U.S. cities, four states and one county.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790