In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Feb 3, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Don’t be Fooled: Paid Sick Time Laws Don’t Cost Jobs

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

This month, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) published misleading claims that the Healthy Families Act (HFA), proposed federal paid sick days legislation, will negatively affect employment. In claiming that the HFA will lead businesses to cut jobs, NIFB’s report disregards empirical evidence from jurisdictions that already have sick days laws. These laws have not caused job cuts; in fact, researchers have found that in some cases, jurisdictions with paid sick days laws are growing jobs faster than neighboring jurisdictions without them.

The NFIB report claims the HFA would cost the U.S. economy 430,000 jobs over a 10-year period. However, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City—cities with established paid sick days standards—have boasted booming economies. In the first year Seattle’s ordinance was in effect, total employment in the city grew at a rate comparable to that of four comparator cities without paid sick days laws. Similarly, San Francisco has experienced faster employment growth (or slower declines during the Great Recession) than surrounding counties without paid sick days laws. And in New York City, nine months after the law took effect, the city’s unemployment rate was at its lowest level in six years. Further, the labor force participation rate was the highest on record and private industry had added over 91,000 jobs. The evidence is clear: economies stay strong with paid sick days laws.

NFIB’s calculations also ignore cost savings for employers providing paid sick days. Businesses with paid sick days save money through reduced turnover, reduced “presenteeism” (in which a sick worker comes in but cannot work at full capacity), and reduced spread of infection to additional employees. A cost-benefit analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that HFA would produce net savings for employers. NFIB’s claims simply don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Business owners across the country support paid sick days laws, recognizing the benefits to both workers and the bottom line. For example, Keith Mestrich, president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, said: “We want our customers to work for employers that support their economic security and enable them to be their best at work and at home… Amalgamated Bank supports legislation in our home state of New York, across the country, and at the federal level to ensure that our customers, and all Americans, have the paid sick days they need for a chance at financial stability.” Makini Howell, a Seattle restaurateur, explained the need for legislation: “Seventy-eight percent of people working in the restaurant industry do not earn a single paid sick day. And I understand it can be hard for a restaurant owner to go out on a limb and provide sick days when it’s not the industry standard. A paid sick days law sets a level playing field.”

In its press release announcing the report, NFIB states that “small business owners want to treat their employees fairly[.]” The HFA would accomplish just that, allowing workers across the country to seek preventive care, recover from illness, or care for their loved ones without losing pay. Evidence from jurisdictions with paid sick days laws already in place shows that businesses continue to thrive when their workers earn paid sick days. NFIB’s report will only fuel public criticisms that, rather than representing the voices of small business owners, the group prioritizes the interests of large corporations. In this case, NFIB simply hasn’t followed the evidence. The Healthy Families Act is just good business.

May 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave: Just What the Doctor Ordered for National Women’s Health Week

By Felicia Onuma

As we celebrate National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) this week (May 10-16, 2015), advocates, policymakers, and others will mark the progress made in improving health care for women. One sometimes overlooked, but critical, ingredient to health care is access to paid sick time and paid family and medical leave. These worker protections ensure that workers have the time to see their health care providers and attend to their health needs.  Today, in honor of NWHW, CLASP is releasing a brief on the importance of paid leave to preventive health care.

NWHW was instituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health in 1999 to draw attention to strategies that help women lead healthier, longer, and safer lives. One critical aspect of achieving these goals is increasing routine health checkups and screenings for women in order to prevent illnesses, diseases, and other health problems—or at least detect them at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be effective. Yet, without paid leave, this avenue to better health may be a nonstarter for far too many women.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) an increasing number of Americans, especially low-income earners, now have access to health care. According to most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 16.4 million Americans who were previously uninsured have gained coverage since the ACA took effect. Besides expanding health care access, one particularly welcome aspect of this health care reform law is that it covers 100 percent of preventive care for women’s health. This means that women who seek a wide variety of preventive services, ranging from mammograms and well-woman visits to contraception, can get them without any without any out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite this important legal step forward in access to preventive care,  too many women do not have take the time they need to actually get these services. With our country’s labor standards seriously lagging behind those in much of the rest of the world, an inordinate number of Americans cannot take time away from work to reap the benefits of this reform. Today, more than 40 million workers in the U.S. (39 percent) are without access to paid sick days and nearly 95 million workers (87 percent) have no paid family leave. Among low-wage workers earning $15,000 or less per year, 80 percent do not have paid sick days. Similarly, 80 percent of part-time workers working fewer than 20 hours per week do not have paid sick days.

Lack of access to earned sick days impedes many women from heeding the advice of medical practitioners to seek preventive health care. In a 2014 study, researchers found that women without sick leave were 12 percent less likely to undergo breast cancer screening than women with sick leave. According to HHS, nearly 10 percent of women who delayed prenatal care were unable to take time off work or school to obtain medical care. Furthermore, those with an insufficient amount of sick days usually opt to save their only available leave to tend to their children, often times skipping or delaying care for themselves.

For their own or a family member’s longer-term illness, or to welcome a new baby, about 60 percent of workers have access to unpaid job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, even for those who qualify for FMLA leave, the financial cost of taking unpaid time off is often impossible to bear. Among workers with unpaid FMLA leave, 52 percent deferred care and 50 percent chose to forgo care altogether because they could not afford to take leave or were fearful of losing their jobs.  

Fortunately, a growing number of states and cities – 21 jurisdictions – have now passed paid sick days laws. Three states have enacted paid family leave programs. And a growing number of states, cities, and even counties are providing their own public employees with paid family and medical leave. Dozens of campaigns to pass paid sick days and paid family leave at the national, state, and city level are gaining momentum around the country.  This important movement forward is worth celebrating this National Women’s Health Week. At the same time, this occasion presents an opportunity to step up the intensity of our calls for further action on paid leave. It’s just what the doctor ordered for women’s health, and for the nation.

Read CLASP’s brief on paid leave and preventive health care >>

Apr 15, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

One year later, the results of Jersey City’s Earned Sick Days law are promising

By Felicia J. Onuma

One year after Jersey City’s earned sick days ordinance took effect, the verdict is in: workers and business are both winning big. Contrary to opponents’ predictions, a new study shows that more than one-third of employers have experienced higher employee productivity, made better-quality hires, and had less employee turnover since implementing the law. Earned Sick Days in Jersey City: A Study of Employers and Employees at Year One, published by Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work, echoes the findings of numerous other reports on the effects of earned sick days laws on employers.

In September 2013, Jersey City became the first jurisdiction in New Jersey to adopt an earned sick days ordinance. The law, which took effect in January 2014, enables workers in businesses with 10 or more employees to earn up to 5 paid sick days each year. Workers in businesses with 9 or fewer employees can earn up to five unpaid sick days.

For most Jersey City businesses, compliance with the law has not been detrimental. Most employers have observed little change in employee behavior. Moreover, many have noted significant benefits. More than 92 percent of employers reported no change in the use of paid sick days following implementation of the law; another 4 percent reported that their employees were taking fewer sick days. More than one-third of employers reported more productivity, less turnover, and improved quality of new hires.

As expected, Jersey City’s law is also helping workers. More than half of Jersey City employees reported earning at least one sick day since the law took effect. The percentage is even higher (60 percent) among workers who have been with the same employer for more than a year. Furthermore, nearly 72 percent of employees who had more sick days due to the law reported higher job satisfaction. 

Jersey City’s experience is not unique. In other jurisdictions with sick leave laws, the majority of employers are complying with standards and reaping their benefits. In San Francisco and  Connecticut, 82 percent and 93 percent of employers, respectively, provide paid sick time to their employees as required by law. Further, the majority of San Francisco and Connecticut employers, as well as those in Seattle, reported no change in costs, profitability, customer service, or employee morale due to earned sick days standards.

New Jersey municipalities are leading the charge on sick days nationwide. Across the state, Jersey City and seven other cities (Newark, Passaic, East Orange, Patterson, Irvington, Trenton, and Montclair), have implemented earned sick days laws. This report on Jersey City’s experience offers encouragement and insight to other jurisdictions as they work to implement their own laws.

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