In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Apr 20, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

L.A. Sick Days Victory Packs Equity Punch

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Yesterday, Los Angeles became the latest city to pass a paid sick days law, joining more than two dozen other jurisdictions across the country that enable workers to earn a minimum number of paid sick days per year. Every such win is a critical step forward for working families, but L.A.’s victory is especially important because of scale and scope. L.A. is the second-largest city in the U.S. and home to the most low-wage workers. Further, the new law offers the most expansive definition of what constitutes a family of any paid sick days law in the country. It will also reduce racial inequities in access to paid sick time. For example, 60 percent of Latino workers lack access. Finally, by bringing enforcement to the local level, it may increase the odds that workers will get their due. 

With L.A.’s new labor standard, workers in the city will be able to earn twice the number of sick days as currently required under the state law—up to six days, or more if the employer chooses.

It’s an important step forward for Angelenos. That’s because, behind the looming Hollywood sign, L.A. is home to thousands of workers earning barely enough to put food on the table. For these workers, losing a day’s pay to take a child to the doctor might mean missing a rent payment or skipping a utility bill. And too often, workers who return from taking a day to recover from the flu may be told to go back home—because they’ve lost their job. 

Prior to passage of California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (AB 1522) in 2014, a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that more than half of L.A. workers lacked access to paid sick time, with pronounced racial and ethnic disparities. Access was startlingly low for certain groups, including Latino workers (60 percent lacked access); part-time workers (80 percent lacked access); and full-time workers earning less than $15,000 per year (76 percent lacked access). Yet, L.A. is nearly 50 percent Latino and its workers have lower median earnings than their counterparts in other major cities.

When AB 1522 passed in 2014, the vast majority of these workers gained access to sick days—but only three days per year. Even though this was progress, it was far below the number of days typically guaranteed for workers in other paid sick days laws, and insufficient to offer the insurance that most workers need when they must recover from a more serious illness (the CDC says that flu can be contagious for five to seven days after flu symptoms emerge) or to care for sick family members. Now, with L.A.’s new law, these workers will have decent coverage for themselves and their loved ones.

Being able to care for family members is an important aspect of sick days laws—almost all of us have people in our lives that we support, and sooner or later we’ll need to take some time to help them recover from illness or visit a healthcare provider. While most sick days laws allow workers to care for their family members, today’s definition of family is constantly shifting, and traditional language may limit workers’ ability to care for their loved ones. L.A.’s new law defines family members as those related to the worker either by “blood or affinity” —which means that caring for your chosen family is valued just as much as caring for your biological family. It’s an especially important provision for many members of the LGBTQ community, and by adopting this language, L.A. leads the nation in taking up a contemporary and progressive vision of the family.

L.A.’s law will also help to ensure effective enforcement of sick days—an especially important goal in a city that has been called the wage theft capital of the country. At present, the state is stretched thin in its efforts to enforce AB 1522. But the city is currently setting up a strong Labor Standards Bureau to enforce its minimum wage and wage theft laws—and this office will take up sick days enforcement, too. In several other major cities, local enforcement is making labor standards more meaningful for the workers they are meant to protect, and chances look good that L.A. will join them.

The L.A. City Council should be commended for adopting a strong law that will make its historic minimum wage law even more meaningful; when workers don’t risk losing their jobs or their wage to take a sick day, they truly reap the benefits of $15 per hour. But as with all labor standards, advocates and policymakers must keep up the fight, even after passage—a law on paper is only as good as the mechanisms that ensure its enforcement.

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 >>

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