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Businesses challenge sick-leave details

Sean Ryan
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Milwaukee’s proposed rules for logging sick-leave hours for mobile workers are unworkable for companies and unenforceable for the city, warned Chuck Engberg.

The rules require any employee who works at least 90 hours within the city of Milwaukee to accrue sick leave, with those at companies with more than 10 employees receiving up to nine days.

Engberg, founding partner of Engberg Anderson Inc., which has an office in Milwaukee, said he wonders how companies will track hours for employees who work on both sides of the Milwaukee border, and how the city will enforce the rule to make sure the timesheets are accurate. He questioned the practicality of logging hours for consultants in China or Boston, for example, who work on long-term projects with Engberg Anderson. Would hours be counted for consultants who have teleconferences with Milwaukee workers for projects within the city, he asked.

“Is virtual presence considered presence?” Engberg said. “And if not, why not? If so, why so?”

But 9to5 Milwaukee, National Association of Working Women, which campaigned to get the sick-leave law approved by referendum, likes the city’s draft rules, said lead organizer Sangita Nayak. She said San Francisco, which enacted similar rules in 2007, cleared up uncertainties by establishing a Web site with answers to frequently asked questions.

“We are going to be looking at very minor changes,” she said. “But for the most part, we feel they honor the original rules.”

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce will ask for changes in how companies log hours for employees who work both in and out of Milwaukee, said Steve Baas, director of government affairs. He said MMAC lawyers are still pulling together the proposed revisions, but in general they want to streamline record-keeping requirements.

“One of the overarching goals here is to make administration of this as easy as possible,” he said.

The Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission is collecting comments on the sick-leave rules in public hearings this month. At the first hearing, held Wednesday, few employers spoke, but several city residents said the requirements will protect their rights.

Engberg said the rules are well-intentioned, but are phrased so vaguely they inevitably will lead to lawsuits over unanswered questions.

“There are too many things in this legislation that are unconsidered, and that’s why it’s going to be a field day for lawyers,” he said. “They thrive on the gray areas of legislation and loopholes.”

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