Magazine article The Nation's Health

Paid Sick Leave Making Inroads but Lagging at National Level

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Paid Sick Leave Making Inroads but Lagging at National Level

Article excerpt

WHEN A waitress has the sniffles, she might like to stay home--and the patrons in the restaurant would surely appreciate it. But for 40 percent of the U.S. private sector workforce, missing a day of work is not an option. If they stay home, they lose income--and some might even lose their jobs.

Millions of Americans do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave, but a movement is gaining traction in some states and municipalities to change that reality.

"Support for paid sick leave policy is huge," said Leticia Mederos, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "When you ask people about it ... they say 'I need time to take care of children, parents or my own health."

Despite its popularity, efforts to create a national sick leave policy have so far been unsuccessful. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced a bill six times in the House of Representatives. Her most recent bill, H.R. 1876, also known as the Healthy Families Act, would require certain employers who employ 15 or more people to allow their employees to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

"It is in the best interests of our nation, and especially our families, to ensure American workers have access to paid sick days," DeLauro said in a statement.

So far, DeLauro's bills, several of which were also supported by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., have not been brought up for a vote in Congress.

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And so states and municipalities have forged ahead. San Francisco was among the first, passing a law in 2007 that allowed workers to accumulate an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours of paid work, to a maximum of nine days per year in larger firms and five days per year in smaller firms.

Seattle and Washington, D.C., followed suit. Bills have also been introduced in Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; Miami; and Orange County, Fla. In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass a paid sick leave requirement, and legislation has been introduced in more than a dozen other states.

The Seattle ordinance, which was passed in 2011, became effective Sept. 1. It was sponsored by City Councilmember Nick Licata, who said he felt the requirement was important because, "quite literally, it will make Seattle a happier, healthier city." "I think it makes Seattle a more attractive place to both live and to do business," he told The Nation's Health.

Success in Seattle was the result of coalition building, Licata said. Through outreach, those who supported the law were able to build a coalition of small business owners who proved integral to the ordinance's success.

"They played a critical role," he said. "They helped create a public message that this was not an anti-business (measure). In working with and talking to small businesses, we were able to address their concerns and bring them into a coalition."

In New York City, a bill that would require paid sick leave has the support of a majority of voters, according to recent polls, but concerns about its effect on business have reportedly kept the City Council from voting on it.

Licata said Seattle benefitted from San Francisco's willingness to act as a test case for paid sick leave programs. A study of the San Francisco program, released in February 2011 by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, found that employer profitability did not suffer. Two-thirds of employers surveyed for the study approved of the ordinance and one-third were "very supportive."

The study also found that black, Hispanic and low-wage workers were the primary beneficiaries of the law.

Other studies have shown that giving workers paid sick leave to recover from illness or care for a sick family member can actually benefit their employers.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, allowing a worker to take paid sick leave, rather than terminating the worker, can save employers from the need to replace the worker, which can cost anywhere from 25 percent to 200 percent of annual compensation. …

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