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Sick day law could scare away firms

A crowd carries sings during a rally Thursday at Milwaukee City Hall. An appellate courts ruling in support of mandatory paid sick leave for Milwaukee-based companies has some law firms considering a move outside the city. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A crowd carries signs during a rally Thursday at Milwaukee City Hall. An appellate court's ruling in support of mandatory paid sick leave for Milwaukee-based companies has some law firms considering a move outside the city. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

An appellate court ruling supporting mandatory paid sick leave for Milwaukee-based companies has some law firms considering a move outside the city.

Matthew Katz, firm administrator for Meissner Tierney Fisher & Nichols SC, Milwaukee, said depending on how the law is interpreted, it could motivate the firm, which has been in the city for 160 years, to leave.

“We haven’t determined the final solution,” he said, “but if this is upheld, it would be problematic for us.”

The Madison-based District IV Court of Appeals on Thursday declared constitutional a 2008 referendum, approved by 70 percent of voters, that mandated full-time workers earn at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. That averages out to nine days per year.

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Inc., the plaintiff, could appeal the decision, sending it to the Supreme Court. There’s also a bill awaiting action in the state Assembly that would prohibit municipalities from enacting such laws.

If the ordinance prevails, though, it could further stress an already troubled business community, said Steve Baas, director of government affairs for MMAC.

“You make every job in the city of Milwaukee more expensive to create,” he said.

A firm with 31 employees, Meissner Tierney doesn’t have a sick-leave policy, but rather a personal-time-off program that lumps together sick, vacation and personal time and offers employees 15 to 25 days off.

The same is true at Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP, although partner Mike Berzowski said he doesn’t think the sick-leave mandate affects firms that already provided an excess of nine personal-time-off days.

“What will happen,” he said, “is firms will take a look at fringe benefit packages and see whether the benefits being provided are at least as good as the mandate. And if not, they’ll have to change them.”

Firms that don’t have a personal-time-off structure in place would implement one to accommodate the sick-leave mandate, Berzowski said.

Beck, Chaet, Bamberger & Polsky SC would revise its policies should the law take effect. With 35 employees in the firm, mandated sick leave would harm productivity because employees would take more days off, partner Barry Chaet said.

“Employees, once they have something paid, tend to use it,” he said. “Most firms would not second-guess employees’ use of it and that’s a problem.”

Jack Zemlicka can be reached at jack.zemlicka @wislawjournal.com.

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