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Editorial: Sick and safe a statewide issue

Whether there should be laws requiring businesses to give their workers paid days off when they're sick or when they just need a day is being debated across the state. So imagine if you do business across city lines, like most businesses do, and all of a sudden, Minnesota's 850 cities each started enacting their own so-called sick and safe time rules or other workplace mandates. Imagine the mess. Imagine the confusion.

Fortunately, a better way has emerged.

With a need still there to determine whether such laws are even necessary — many employers already offer paid sick days, recognizing they'd lose their best workers if they didn't — the state Legislature this session is considering measures to make sure that if anything is enacted, it's statewide policy. The same rules for everyone. Less uncertainty for jobs-providing business owners. Fewer unintended consequences for state workers.

"A patchwork of laws just does not work for employers, large or small," Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune editorial board members. "You're going to have cities rolling this out over a period of time and all of them are going to be a little bit different, meaning compliance will be complex. How will they be enforced? ...

"We want to have explicit preemption from the state in the area of employment benefits so that we don't have municipalities running roughshod over what traditionally has been state authority. This is actually restoring state authority where it belongs," Loon said.

The state chamber sued the city of Minneapolis last fall over its newly passed sick leave policy because, the chamber argued, it conflicted with state labor laws. Meanwhile, a sick leave requirement is to go into effect in St. Paul in July. And in Duluth, a task force is studying the issue. Other communities are expected to follow.

Unless state legislation preempts — as it should.

"This really should be a state issue. Or a federal issue, for that matter," Loon said. "Businesses know what's best for their businesses, and when they work with their employees to find out what they want in their benefits packages, and they design that around their business model, that produces a very positive result. What we're finding is more and more businesses are offering more and more and stronger benefits. Wages have started to go up. Benefits packages have been robust."

While many decisions that affect residents are best made at the local level, in this instance, with so many businesses operating across boundaries, uniform statewide rules make the most — and the most practical — sense. Minnesota employers deserve to be treated fairly under the law and in ways that support their success. A single law for all accomplishes that.

In the same way, Minnesota workers can expect to be treated fairly, and that may include being allowed to earn paid time off to use when they're sick or for other emergencies.

But most already are able to, even if the benefit isn't offered as often as some might like. How many employees without paid sick days are part time, seasonal, temporary or in other positions that historically haven't received such a benefit? How many work for small companies that couldn't afford it or for their families and shouldn't expect it? What would happen to businesses and their bottom lines — and their ability to employ anyone — if they were forced by the government to broaden the benefit? The push could result in layoffs or lead to other unintended negative consequences.

Is the problem in Minnesota severe enough to justify government intrusion?

If a determination is made that it is, regulations at least can be as unintrusive and as harmless as possible. And they can be clear and uniform, meaning the same rules for everyone.

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