Audit: D.C. Sick Days Law Doesn’t Hurt Business, Must Be Strengthened

By Molly Fries

When you or your child are sick, the last thing you want to do is go to work.  Taking a day off can often be the difference between feeling healthy and productive and feeling terrible while risking the health of your coworkers.  Sadly, for many families, taking a day off isn’t an option.

Without earned sick leave, workers stand to lose crucial income-or even their jobs.  Recently, more and more jurisdictions across the country, including Washington D.C., have recognized the devastating impact this has on families and passed laws giving employees the right to earn paid sick leave.

This week, the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor released an audit of the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (ASSLA), D.C.’s earned sick days law.  The audit, which was required by law, analyzed the effects of the Act, while also surveying compliance around the District.

The ASSLA guarantees earned sick leave for some employees who have worked for a company for over a year.  The law excludes tipped workers, which leaves many restaurant employees without coverage.

The Audit found that the percentage of employers reporting that they did not provide earned sick leave has dropped from 50 percent in 2007, the year before the Act was established, to only 31 percent in 2012. While this is a significant improvement, noncompliance is still shockingly high and, must be addressed both legislatively and through more aggressive enforcement.

The Audit also proved that many of the objections raised by business lobbyists prior to the law’s passage-most notably that the law would be too costly for employers and drive them out of D.C.-were unfounded. In a survey of 800 D.C. businesses completed for the Audit, an overwhelming 87.5 percent reported that mandatory paid sick leave would not influence them to move their business elsewhere.

San Francisco has also adopted earned sick leave, and there is ample evidence that it is working-both for workers and employers.  According to an Institute for Women’s Policy Research Report, since the city enacted the law, local job growth has outpaced that of neighboring cities.  Meanwhile, unemployment in the city has dropped, while rising in the surrounding area.

Other benefits of earned sick leave laws include lower employee turnover and a more committed workforce, as well as reduced health care costs, which are attributable to fewer after-hour emergency room visits and less transmission of disease from coworker to coworker.

These laws are gaining momentum across the country.  In addition to D.C. and San Francisco, sick day laws have already been enacted in Seattle and the state of Connecticut. And so far in 2013, sick day laws have been passed in Portland, New York City, and Philadelphia. (Philadelphia’s law was ultimately vetoed by the mayor.)

But our work doesn’t end when these laws go on the books. Laws like the ASSLA in D.C. must be strengthened through increased enforcement and compliance.  In addition, advocates in D.C. are working to extend sick leave to all workers, including restaurant employees who are currently excluded under the law.  If the Auditor’s recommendations are followed and the law is improved to address the needs of more workers, D.C. families will be healthier and more financially secure.