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Mayor Garcetti loosens L.A. requirements for paid leave amid coronavirus

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday night that he was exempting a range of businesses from recently passed rules mandating more paid leave for workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council voted last month to bolster paid leave for workers at big companies — those with 500 or more employees nationwide — requiring them to provide an additional 80 hours of leave. The move was intended to stop people who are especially vulnerable or suffering symptoms from continuing to go to work during the coronavirus crisis.

Garcetti praised the council for moving swiftly to help Angelenos, but said changes were needed to avoid putting some businesses at risk and avert layoffs.

The L.A. rules were meant to plug a gap in a similar law passed on the federal level, which did not cover companies of that size. Garcetti said he was issuing an order that would instead impose the new requirements on businesses with 500 or more workers in Los Angeles alone — rather than across the country — or 2,000 or more employees nationwide.

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In addition, Garcetti decided to exempt some employers that were already providing a significant amount of paid leave.

Under the rules passed by the council, big companies would have to provide the additional paid leave to workers who are 65 or older, have medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes, have been advised to quarantine themselves, or need to care for a family member. Before the new rules passed, L.A. businesses were already required to allow workers to accrue and use up to 48 hours of paid leave annually.

Garcetti said he wanted to avoid putting “excessive burdens on businesses that are already doing the right thing.” If businesses already provide their workers at least 160 hours of paid leave annually, they do not have to provide any additional leave, according to the mayor’s order.

City Council members had already decided to exempt healthcare providers and first responders from the requirements for added leave. The mayor also exempted other healthcare personnel, government employees, and workers who deliver parcels.

The L.A. City Council voted to increase paid leave for workers who are ill or need to care for family — but only for workers at businesses with 500 or more employees nationwide.

And Garcetti excluded companies that recently opened or relocated to Los Angeles, as well as any businesses that have closed for at least 14 days under city orders tied to COVID-19.

“In the midst of this public health crisis and economic upheaval, we must also anticipate that workers could suffer through layoffs if this city imposes excessive burdens and costs upon businesses — many of which have ceased operations, lost customers and sustained catastrophic losses due to this pandemic,” the mayor wrote.

The federal government has offered tax credits meant to fully reimburse small and midsize companies for the cost of providing added leave during the pandemic, but those credits are not available to companies with more than 500 employees, which were not covered by the federal requirements.

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Joe O’Donnell, chief operating officer of the Urban Plates restaurant chain, said that if Garcetti had not changed the L.A. rules, his company would have had to think seriously about shutdowns and layoffs. Urban Plates has more than 900 employees nationwide, O’Donnell said, but most of its locations are outside Los Angeles.

“We’re already losing money, but our goal was to keep our team members working,” O’Donnell said. If they had not been exempted from the requirements, “it would make us pause and think, ‘Do we want to stay open in this environment?’”

“This is a very well-intentioned regulation, but the restaurant business is high cost and low margins. It’s not an industry that can absorb all these additional burdens,” added O’Donnell, a board member of the California Restaurant Assn., which had reached out to the mayor’s office about the ordinance.

Hospitals had also raised concerns about the wording of the original rules: Kaiser Permanente warned that unless the exemption for healthcare providers were clarified to prevent any ambiguity about which staffers were covered, “the ordinance could greatly impair our ability to appropriately staff our facilities and provide quality care.”

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Others were disappointed by some of the adjustments made by Garcetti.

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, one of the advocacy groups in the Healthy LA Coalition that had pushed to increase paid leave for local workers, said it “cannot see the rationale for the changes the mayor has made,” particularly altering the size of businesses covered.

“We’re concerned that these changes will leave large numbers of Los Angeles workers unprotected,” Haley Potiker, the group’s communications director, said in a statement Wednesday. “Paid sick leave makes all of us safer.”

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Even before Garcetti made his changes, labor and community groups had expressed some disappointment with the limitations of the plan passed by the City Council less than two weeks ago. Council members had decided not to impose similar paid leave requirements on small businesses that can seek exemptions from the federal rules — those with fewer than 50 employees.

That relieved restaurant owners who had argued that the cost of the new requirements could force small businesses to shut down, but upset workers who said they needed the same protections as employees at bigger companies.

Cayetano Juarez, a cook living in South Los Angeles, said the resulting rules “won’t help the majority of people that I know.”

“Restaurant workers have made our bosses rich for a long time,” Juarez said in Spanish. “We need them to help us with this crisis.”


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