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Apr 24, 201407:37 AMOpen for Business

with Jody Glynn Patrick

Paid sick leave laws: What do you think?

(page 1 of 2)

You may take sick time, or paid time off, for granted, but 40% of the American private-sector workforce has no paid sick days. That is actually an optimistic average, because for low-wage industries, the percentages are much higher. For example, 79% of food service workers and hotel workers lack paid sick leave. To put that in perspective, nearly 60% of families below 200% of the poverty line have a family member who works full time, year-round.

Worldwide, at least 145 countries ensure access to paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing a week or more annually, but there is no U.S. federal law related to paid leave for private-sector workers. Efforts in Congress to gain approval of paid sick leave legislation remain stalled, so cities and states are taking the lead. Spirited campaigns are underway in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington.

Following Connecticut’s lead, Vermont and Massachusetts could be the next states to enact employer paid sick leave laws. The state of Connecticut and five cities (San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore.) currently mandate that employers offer paid sick leave to at least a portion of their workforce. Closer to home, Milwaukee passed a mandatory paid sick leave law, but it was later struck down because Wisconsin has a constitutional provision that specifically bans mandatory sick leave laws. 

Jersey City, N.J., mandated sick leave within private businesses effective January 2014, when the city legislated that companies with fewer than 10 employees must allow them to earn five days of unpaid sick time per year. Companies over that threshold must give at least five days of paid sick time. There is a grace period of at least 90 days before sick time can be used, to allow for probationary periods, etc. It is expected that the new law will benefit approximately 30,000 workers. In the state’s second largest city — a corporate haven known as “Wall Street West” — 20% of families live on less than $25,000 per year.

New York City followed suit for companies that employ more than 20 workers. Also this past January, the City of Portland, Ore., decided that businesses with six or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually. Smaller businesses are required to allow employees to accrue 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year.

Social-economic effects of mandating sick leave

San Francisco first passed a provisional law in 2004. It outperformed its neighboring counties in terms of job growth in the years after its sick leave program went into effect. In November 2006, voters then passed a ballot initiative making the city the first in the country to guarantee paid sick days to all. Workers in businesses with 10 or fewer employees earn up to five days per year, while workers at larger businesses earn nine days. Results are mixed: While overall employment rates in San Francisco have not suffered, 28% of employees in the “bottom wage quartile” faced layoffs or reductions in hours as a result of the mandate.

Washington, D.C., enacted mandatory sick leave in 2008. It audited the effects in June 2013 to determine if, as detractors speculated, the new regulations would cause area businesses to relocate. A majority, 87.5%, said they did not. Ironically, the audit found that some eligible temporary District government employees did not receive paid sick leave because their HR departments did not have a system in place to track earned benefits.


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Apr 24, 2014 01:20 pm
 Posted by  John

Sick leave is essentially mandated additional vacation, with attendant costs. It should be left to businesses to offer it or not as part of an overall compensation and benefits package, and let employees decide which employer with which offerings they choose to work for.

Using impact studies of thriving tech centers like Seattle and San Francisco or affluent government centers like Washington DC gives no real insight into the impact of these laws in more marginally competitive economies.

Apr 24, 2014 02:01 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Businesses should be required to grant five sick days/year, and any employee caught calling in sick without good cause should be subject to immediate imprisonment for stealing from his/her employer.

Apr 25, 2014 06:31 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

It seems to me a law like this would have a huge impact on the service sector - food service people, health care assistants - the low-wage but oh-so-important jobs that are done by hardworking people every day. Frankly, five days a year isn't enough - most illnesses last a week or so, and personally, I'd rather not have someone preparing food for me who is too sick to work. Are we seriously more worried about those poor, poor struggling companies who might be forced to offer a few days paid leave each year than the workers and clients who are potentially affected by workers with illnesses? The lack of compassion in favor of the bottom line is really getting stunning in this country. It's sad.

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