D.C. Council Considers Expanded Paid Sick Leave Law

By Lauren French

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council introduced legislation that would finally give restaurant workers and new employees access to earned sick days. The new law, proposed by Marion Barry with the support of nine other councilmembers, would expand on the 2008 Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (ASSLA).  Although the ASSLA, the second earned sick days law to be passed in America, was an important milestone for workers and advocates it includes numerous exemptions that leave  many workers in the District unprotected and struggling to care for their health and the health of their families.

Under the ASSLA, workers can earn three to seven paid sick days per year, depending on the number of employees at the business.  Importantly, the law exempts “restaurant wait staff and bartenders who work for a combination of wages and tips.” One study found that almost 80 percent of restaurant workers in D.C. do not currently have access to paid sick leave. That has major consequences for both  employees’ wellbeing and public health and safety. In fact, 59 percent of D.C. restaurant workers reported having prepared, cooked, or served food while sick, a practice that frequently spreads contagious disease and food-borne illness.

Another weakness of the 2008 law is that employees are ineligible to accrue sick leave until they have been with their employer for at least one year. The new bill lowers that period to 90 days. Upon its introduction, Naomi Iser of the D.C. Employment Justice Center noted the importance of the bill’s less-restrictive time requirement, saying, “In low-wage industries, there’s a lot of turnover, so in a lot of sectors people might be switching jobs every couple months and are never able to get any sick days.”

Losia, a tipped restaurant worker, was at the Council meeting on Tuesday to show support for the new bill. She is in favor of the expanded law because the exclusion of restaurant workers from the existing legislation makes it difficult for her to juggle her responsibilities as a working mother. “It affects me when my child or I get sick and I have to miss work or go to work sick,” she explained. “I don’t think it’s a good balance between your work life and your personal life.”

The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of a new report out of Seattle that suggests the city’s earned sick days law has not negatively impacted the economy. Advocates have seen similar positive results for D.C. businesses. “We found it really helps reduce the cost of turnover and hiring new staff,” said Iser. “By retaining a healthy staff, businesses are able to retain a loyal staff who are really good at their jobs, and they don’t have to risk their clients coming into their business being exposed to anything that the employees might have.”

Learn more about campaign for the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 here.

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