Paid Sick Leave is an Afterthought for Many Tech Startups

Email a Friend
Supporters of New York City's sick bill, including Rep Carolyn Maloney, rally in February at City Hall.

The debate over paid sick time has focused on small businesses and low-wage workers. But if they get sick, many workers in the city’s fast-growing tech sector also have few options.

Jessica Lawrence, executive director of New York Tech Meetup, said employment policies are the last thing on the minds of many entrepreneurs busy building their businesses.  As a result, companies can grow quickly without ever setting guidelines for when it’s okay to miss work.

“If you have one person who makes the choice to take a significant amount of time off, and another person who, for whatever reason, feels like they can't do the same things, then you create this imbalance and sense of unfairness among the employees,” Lawrence said.

She noted that even if City Council approves paid sick leave, many startups won't be directly affected because their workers are paid salaries rather than an hourly wage.

There don't seem to be any hard data on startups and employee benefits.

Cheryl Swirnow is co-founder of Sherpaa, a healthcare company that works with many New York startups, said these companies have no problem recruiting programmers, but they're reluctant to hire an human resource manager.

“This is somebody who isn't necessarily going to be contributing to the bottom line every day, so very often it's on the docket to hire them, and then it gets pushed back,” Swirnow said.

Swirnow's own startup, Sherpaa, is a little over one year old. The company's eight employees have access to both paid time off and parental leave.

So when was the last time Swirnow took advantage of Sherpaa’s benefits?

“You know what? It's ironic. I just had a baby 5 weeks ago. And we have a maternity policy in place, but what's nice about the tech sector is that we allow you to be at home,” Swirnow said. “So I have kind of the best of both worlds where I can be with my baby but also still be working.”

Swirnow insists she felt no pressure.

“This is absolutely my choice. It's what works for me, and works for my family. And I love work,” she said.

A lot of people in the go-getter world of startups have said the exact same thing.

So whether they have paid time off or not, many tech workers just keep working.