Cities, states mandate paid sick days
In June, Connecticut became the first state to mandate paid sick leave for service employees. Connecticut’s new law, along with similar ordinances passed by cities across the country, aims to protect public health and encourage job growth. Some businesses and elected officials have opposed the laws, expressing concerns about extra costs.
Effective Jan. 1, 2012, workers at companies in Connecticut with a minimum of 50 employees can accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. The law is expected to benefit more than 250,000 people, according to Jon Green, director of the Hartford, Conn.-based Connecticut Working Families Party, a non-profit organization that advocates for mandatory paid sick leave.
Most employees who do not commonly receive paid sick days work in food, retail and health care industries, so they interact heavily with the public. Permitting them to stay home when they are ill benefits public health, Green says. Nearly half of the 21 million annual outbreaks of norovirus, a common food-borne virus, are caused by ill food workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s healthy for the public and common decency for working people [to mandate paid sick leave],” Green says.
San Francisco passed a paid sick leave law in 2006, and several large cities, including Denver and Seattle, are considering paid sick day mandates. Seattle Councilman Nick Licata, sponsor of the paid sick leave legislation, said that if his bill were to become law, it would benefit more than 190,000 employees in the Seattle area. “This bill improves the quality of life of Seattle’s citizens,” Licata says.
In Connecticut, only one Republican senator voted for the bill. Most claimed it would be bad for businesses, says the legislation’s sponsor State Senator Edith Prague. San Francisco’s law, which passed by referendum with wide public support, did not face much opposition. A majority of businesses in San Francisco support the law, according to Kevin Miller, senior research associate at the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and a study conducted by the institute last year found most businesses did not report any loss of profitability as a result of the mandate.
The laws also offer an economic benefit, according to Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. Job retention policies like paid sick days are a way to reduce unemployment by reducing layoffs and firings, Appelbaum said in a statement. “Job retention policies that fight unemployment should be a top priority,” Appelbaum said. “Paid sick days legislation would help deter unnecessary firings, and help keep hard-working people in their jobs.”
Allison Reilly is a St. Louis-based freelance writer.