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The media firm that made presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg a billionaire agreed to revise its paid sick leave policy in September after a city probe spurred by an anonymous whistleblower, documents show.
The late-2018 complaint against Bloomberg LP’s Midtown headquarters alleged the company was requiring some employees to provide a doctor’s note after calling in sick for one or two days — in violation of the city’s stringent paid sick leave law. The law bars employers from demanding a note until after Day 3.
As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg vetoed an early version of the current paid sick leave legislation in 2013 — arguing it would be burdensome for small businesses, harmful to the economy and costly to enforce.
On the national campaign trail just days ago, Bloomberg sounded a different tune when he vowed in a MarketWatch op-ed to fight for labor protections.
“In addition to preparing people for good jobs, we will modernize the social contract between employee and employer — so laborers are protected, no matter where they work,” Bloomberg wrote. “We will do that by working to guarantee paid sick leave and paid family leave for all workers — just as we do at my company.”
An investigation by the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection substantiated that Bloomberg LP’s written policy for taking sick days violated two components of the law.
The probe found that Bloomberg employees could be required “at any time” to submit a doctor’s note “to verify the condition causing their absence.”
Bloomberg LP’s policy also required employees unable to report for work to notify their supervisor and provide a reason “at least one hour before their normal starting time.”
But the law allows workers to make such a notice “as soon as practicable,” which wouldn’t preclude ill employees from contacting their supervisors after their shift has started.
Mike’s Change of Heart
A spokesperson for Bloomberg’s presidential campaign said the mayor’s opposition to the city legislation stemmed largely from concerns it would put city businesses at an economic disadvantage with firms in the surrounding region that didn’t have to abide by the same rules.
“Now that he’s running for president, Mike is proposing nationwide policies that will help people everywhere and won’t disadvantage one area or another,” said the spokesperson, Stu Loeser.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the prime sponsor of the city’s paid sick leave law when she was a City Council member, said she welcomed Bloomberg’s new stance.
“I believe people have a right to change their position,” she said.
But she also noted that Bloomberg’s concerns about regional competitiveness weren’t unique, and were discussed for hundreds of hours before the legislation was passed.
“We worked all that out,” said Brewer. “We came up with a solution that to the best of my knowledge has not produced any problems.”
Company Benefits Touted
Ty Trippet, a spokesperson for Bloomberg LP, noted that the city’s findings centered on a “disagreement” about language in company policy, rather than on the company’s provision of paid sick leave — which, he said, far exceeds what’s required.
This includes unlimited paid sick days and 20 days of annual paid time off starting on an employee’s first day.
“In addition, we offer a full 26 weeks of paid parental leave for new families along with a host of generous benefits that make Bloomberg [LP] a place where thousands of people are proud to work every day,” said Trippet.
As of December 2019, the de Blasio administration has levied more than $2.8 million in fines under its expanded Paid Safe and Sick Leave laws, which also now addresses domestic violence. DCPW has also investigated more than 900 complaints in recent years and restored $7.5 million in lost benefits to thousands of workers, city documents show.
The complaint against Bloomberg LP was submitted anonymously by mail on Sept. 20, 2018. It alleged that some employees were required to submit doctors’ notes for absences of only one or two days, which the complainant alleged was a form of “retaliation.”
Because investigators couldn’t interview the whistleblower, they were forced to rely on company documents to make their case.
Their records show Bloomberg LP was slow to acknowledge any alleged violations of city law.
A March 5, 2019, log by DCWP’s lead investigator shows the company’s “response states they do not agree with our findings, but could amend some of the wording in their policy.”
A day later, the prober wrote that she spoke to a company attorney, who “believes their policy is compliant w/[Paid Sick Leave] but agrees there could be some language added for clarity. [The company] maintains there are no violations in their policy.”
The following month, the company proposed to pay for the violations and adjust its policies, but without the production of an official “consent order” by the city — which would spell out the nature and resolution of the case.
In May 2019, the Bloomberg LP attorney reviewed the proposed consent order but said “he does not see how it would be possible to construct a version of the [consent order] that would be mutually acceptable to both parties,” the same investigator wrote.
Ultimately, a consent order was signed in September 2019, requiring the firm to pay $1,000 for the two violations, boost its recordkeeping on accrual of sick days and train its supervisors on the paid sick leave law.
It also required Bloomberg LP to revise its sick leave policy and distribute the amended version to all employees by the end of this month.
A Two-page Veto Letter
As mayor, Bloomberg threatened to veto paid sick leave legislation at least twice — including when the bill was first introduced in early 2010 by Brewer.
In October 2010, the bill was shelved with the assistance of then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a frequent ally of the mayor. Opponents had argued it was the wrong time to impose new costs on small businesses, especially as the city was recovering from the 2008 financial crisis.
But in the heat of the 2013 campaign to replace Bloomberg as mayor, the Council renewed its push to pass the measure — succeeding in May of that year.
In June, Bloomberg penned the two-page veto letter that laid out multiple reasons for his opposition to the bill.
The common thread throughout his concerns was that it would raise costs for small businesses and prompt them to reduce other employee benefits, cut employee hours, reduce hiring or even lay off workers — moves that would disproportionately hurt low-wage earners.
“While the motivation behind [the legislation] is laudable, the bill will have deleterious effects on businesses and not-for-profit organizations throughout the city, and it will hurt the city’s economy,” he wrote.
Later that month, the Council overrode the veto with nearly unanimous approval.
In September 2016, a survey of more than 350 businesses covered by the law conducted by the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research found the impact on employers to be “no big deal.”
In the two years before the law went live, New York City added 207,400 jobs, while 230,200 jobs were added in the two years after the law went into effect, according to CEPR.
At the same time, the law had expanded sick leave coverage to 1.4 million new workers — bringing the total to 3.9 million, according to the review.
“By their own account,” the group’s review found, “the vast majority of employers were able to adjust quite easily to the new law, and for most the cost impact was minimal to nonexistent.”
However, a more recent survey of nearly 1,500 small businesses conducted by a coalition of pro-business groups — including the five borough chambers of commerce — challenged the findings of the 2016 study.
The 2019 report said most businesses did feel burdened by the paid sick leave mandate — including close to half the companies saying the law had precluded them from hiring new personnel.
(Bloomberg Philanthropies is a funder of THE CITY)
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