Thousands of local business owners will have to start paying their workers for sick leave under a proposed state law that business groups have tagged as a job killer.

The bill would require employers to give full-time workers at least three days of paid sick leave each year. It also explicitly states that workers can sue their employers for denying sick time or retaliating against them for taking it.

Local restaurateur David Houston said he would be hit hard by the bill. Houston, president of the Barney’s Beanery chain in Los Angeles, currently only allows managers to take paid sick days as part of a broader paid time-off policy. Servers, kitchen staff and other line workers don’t get paid sick days. Barney’s employs 500 at its seven restaurants in and around Los Angeles.

“Given the margins in this business, that’s all we can afford,” Houston said. “If this bill passes, I would have to take a long look at other steps, like freezing hiring or laying people off.”

Several statewide business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and the California Restaurant Association, oppose the bill. The chamber has put the bill on its annual list of job killer bills.

The groups point to a similar law that passed in 2007 in San Francisco mandating five paid sick days a year, and claim that some small businesses have laid off workers, and reduced benefits and hours as a result.

“This bill will negatively impact small employers who are not able to maintain this (extra) cost and maintain their current level of costs in other areas,” said Jennifer Barrera, lobbyist with the California chamber. “They will have to adjust for this.”

Previous efforts to pass a paid sick leave mandate would have required seven to 10 days each year; this bill only demands three.

Business interests, however, raised other concerns and remain worried even after attempts by the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, to make the bill more palatable to employers.

For example, Gonzales said she is revising the bill to make it clear that the paid sick leave provisions only kick in after 90 days on the job. She is also revising the bill to allow employers to meet its requirements through paid time-off plans. Under such a plan, an employee accrues credits for vacation, sick time and personal days in one account. A paid time-off plan would qualify so long as the accrual rate matches or accedes the one hour off for every 30 hours worked that is in the Gonzales bill.

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