The end of summer means the start of flu season. For many U.S. workers, catching a cold means either working through the sickness or giving up a paycheck. The Bureau of Labor Statistic estimates that about 40% of workers nationwide are not covered by a sick leave plan (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 08/13). These workers, usually part-time employees, must then choose between getting paid or getting well.
However, a string of recent legislation could be changing that. In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to mandate that all workers must have at least 5 days in paid sick leave available to them. The state estimated that the law benefited between 200,000 and 400,000 workers.
In April of last year, New York City became the largest city in the nation to require paid sick leave for workers, covering an estimated 1.2 million employees who were not previously able to take paid time off when they fell ill. The Big Apple followed in the footsteps of San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, which had already passed mandatory sick laws. As of June 1, workers in Newark are also eligible to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, allowing them to care for themselves or a sick family member if necessary. Similar laws have been passed in five other New Jersey cities, and a statewide law is making its way through the legislature. If passed, New Jersey would become the third state to pass a mandate for paid sick leave.
The latest win for sick leave proponents occurred last week when Governor Jerry Brown of California passed the nation's second state-wide law requiring that all employers grant workers at least three days in paid sick time. Brown signed the law, stating that "Whether you're a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job." Advocates claim it will benefit 6.5 million workers, many of whom work in the hospitality and service industry.
The spread of required sick time has driven 10 states, including Florida, Arizona, and Georgia to pass preemptive measures prohibiting cities and counties within the state from enacting sick leave ordinances. Opponents of the law are concerned that the cost of providing sick days will put too great a burden on small businesses and lower productivity from possible abuse of taking sick time off. A study from the Employment Policies Institute found that of the 86 Connecticut businesses affected by the law, 38 said they were less likely to hire in the future, 31 predicted they would cut benefits, and 12 said they would scale back employee hours (Employment Policies Institute, 02/13).
However, so far in Connecticut, fears of catastrophic costs and businesses closing or moving have not materialized. The Center for Economic Policy Research found that since Connecticut's law was passed, employment rose in key sectors affected by the law, including hospitality and health services (Center for Economic and Policy Research, 02/21/14).
These recent laws have spurred Massachusetts to put its own state-wide measure on the November ballot. If passed, the state would be the third to mandate sick leave for all employees, even part-time workers. And six others have paid sick leave on their legislative agendas for 2015, including Colorado, Vermont, and Maryland. These laws have only started to gain momentum within the last few years; it maybe several years more before it is determined if they are a benefit or a detriment.
Readers, do you think it should be mandatory for employers to give paid sick leave?