Viewpoint: Paid sick leave makes good business sense for Albuquerque

News from Albuquerque Business First:

For years, opponents of measures that benefit employees and consumers have used the same argument: “It will be bad for business.” Whether it was the restaurant smoking ban in 2003, raising the minimum wage in 2012 or, now, the proposed earned sick leave ordinance, opponents have cut and pasted the same fear-mongering to intimidate the people of Albuquerque.

The Healthy Workforce Ordinance will allow workers to earn sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Employees can use no more than five days of earned leave per year at small businesses (fewer than 40 employees) and seven days at larger businesses. Many business owners want to provide sick leave, but only if it doesn't put their business at a competitive disadvantage. This ordinance will allow them to do just that, providing a level playing field with an easy-to-follow policy, enforced by the city of Albuquerque, just like any other ordinance that affects employers.

Contrary to the misinformation in a column written by Jason Espinoza of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, if a business already offers its own paid time off policy, it will not be affected. The ordinance sets a floor for the amount of leave that can be earned, not a ceiling, so PTO policies will not have to change as long as they meet or exceed the requirements of the ordinance. This means there will be no extra record keeping requirements, no obligation to split out sick time from PTO -— nothing will change. This is clearly spelled out in the ordinance; it’s irresponsible for Espinoza to say otherwise.

Another point of clarification: The rebuttable presumption says an employee cannot be fired or retaliated against for using their earned sick leave. If an employer must terminate or reprimand an employee for other infractions, they have the right to do so. The rebuttable presumption simply states that a business owner must give the employee a reason (if asked) for termination. If that reason is because an employee used their earned sick leave and nothing else, then the employer is in violation of the law. However, if an employer terminates or reprimands the employee for some reason other than using earned sick leave, then the employer has not violated the Healthy Workforce Ordinance.

This ordinance does not strip an employer of their right to manage their business. Again, Espinoza paints a grim future by misrepresenting what the ordinance does. The truth is that worker productivity, retention and attendance, as well as customer relations, will all improve as a result of the Healthy Workforce Act.

The Healthy Workforce Ordinance is a simple way to fix an enormous problem in our city. There are 107,000 workers in Albuquerque who do not have access to earned sick leave; food servers, child care workers, grocery store workers, line cooks and construction workers are making the decision to work while they are ill rather than miss a day of pay. Opponents would rather allow employees' illness to be spread to consumers than agree that the Healthy Workforce Ordinance is a reasonable solution that benefits both business owners and workers.

As a business owner, I know it costs more to train new employees than it does to retain reliable workers. Offering sick leave is one way that we have been able to retain our reliable staff. It should be in every owner's best interest to treat employees fairly. Maybe other business owners like to lose money, but for a family business, our hard-earned money goes back into our stores. Investing in our employees' health keeps costs down.

I’m sure Espinoza uses his paid sick leave if he or a family member falls ill. Why doesn’t he want that for others in our city?

Share your thoughts by emailing letters to the editor or opinion column submissions to Editor-in-Chief Rachel Sams at

Albuquerque Business First's Viewpoint section provides a forum for readers' views. We welcome guest opinion articles and letters to the editor that respond to our stories or that deal with business issues around the state. All submissions, including photos, become the property of Albuquerque Business First and might be edited, published or reused in other formats and cannot be returned.