A Fever Over Paid Sick Leave Laws

01 April 2013 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

On the heels of a nasty flu season, the topic of mandating paid sick leave seems more popular than ever. The battle between those who prefer their working and eating environments “sneeze-free” and those who prioritize limiting financial burdens on small businesses is a contentious one this year. Many state and local lawmakers have proposed legislation on both sides of the issue over the past few years, and this year is no different.

Currently, Connecticut is the only state to require private employers to provide paid sick leave for its workers. The cities of San Francisco, California, Washington, D.C. , and Seattle, Washington, already have paid sick leave ordinances as well. The Portland, Oregon City Council just passed legislation that is set to take effect in 2014, and the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania City Council passed a bill that is awaiting the mayor’s signature. In addition to these, paid sick leave mandates have been considered by at least 10 other cities and states in recent years, most notably New York City, Massachusetts, and Maryland, which are all expected to pass legislation in 2013. In fact, the New York City Council reached an agreement with labor unions this week that will require businesses to provide paid sick days starting in 2014 if successfully adopted. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is pushing for a federal paid sick leave act this year, too. The different laws vary as to threshold requirements, exceptions, and the number of paid days required. Some of the laws include provisions for family members who become sick, and also “safe” provisions that allow for time off to deal with critical safety situations such as domestic violence and rape.

So, why is sick leave such a big issue? Placing more regulations on already struggling businesses seems like a bad idea to many people. Paying workers to stay home simply does not seem fiscally beneficial, and it could create an administrative burden. A 2010 study found that the impact of paid sick leave on New York City businesses, in particular, would be tremendous, even though survey results show that 88 percent of its private sector workers already have access to paid sick leave. The workers making up the other 12 percent generally include those in the construction, hospitality and restaurant, retail, and “other education” industries (meaning libraries, museums, and nursery schools).

Nevertheless, supporters argue that requiring employers to provide paid sick leave is actually good for business, because it keeps workers from spreading their illnesses and getting other employees sick. Avoiding large numbers of employee absences is undeniably good for productivity, and statistics (http://www.citizen.org/documents/regulation-issue-industry-complaints-report.pdf) indicate that since the implementation of such regulations in San Francisco, the city saw significant job growth, while the surrounding cities saw employment numbers decline over the same time period. In fact, according to a 2012 report from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, more than half of the workers in its survey who regularly handle food admitted to coming to work sick on an average of at least three days a year. Therefore, it is no surprise that voters across the country often support these measures, as most employees would prefer not to sit next to a sick co-worker or eat a contaminated meal.

Whatever your personal stance, businesses across the country should keep an eye on sick leave legislation this session to ensure compliance with the frequently changing laws.

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