Enforcement Agencies Gather to Share Strategies

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

On November 6, 2015, Elizabeth, NJ, passed the country’s 26th paid sick days (PSD) law, highlighting the momentum of the PSD movement while raising the question of how to enforce these laws effectively. Recognizing that strong enforcement is needed to ensure workers’ rights, CLASP has brought together agency officials and advocates from across the country—first through phone convenings and now in person in New York City.

At the Ford Foundation last week, representatives of 16 of the 22 government agencies tasked with enforcing PSD laws joined dozens of advocates and philanthropists at the first “Making Paid Sick Leave Work: Sharing Strategies” convening, co-hosted by CLASP and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. At the convening, participants discussed strategies for ensuring that workers in their jurisdictions receive the paid sick days guaranteed by law.

Participants grappled with difficult questions they all face in enforcing PSD laws: How can agencies with limited budgets use their resources effectively? Do temporary workers accrue paid sick days through their temp agency or the company where they’re temping? How can agencies identify legal ambiguities that need to be addressed through regulations? Convening workshops armed participants with best practices for addressing these issues.

Another key topic was collaboration between agencies and advocates. For example, Karina Bull from Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards and Nicole Vallestero Keenan of the Fair Work Center described their joint effort to educate workers about their rights under Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time law. The Fair Work Center also advocates for individual workers who allege that their employers have violated the law. Other sessions focused on creative, low-cost outreach strategies, such as a San Francisco program that sends flyers home with schoolchildren so parents can learn about the law.

In a keynote speech, David Weil, Ph.D., administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, emphasized the importance of optics in enforcing labor standards. He encouraged agencies to “look bigger” by making media aware of their big successes, which will encourage more business owners to comply with the law. Participants returned home inspired to leverage the bully pulpit along with enforcement tools to make their oversight more effective.

The convening opened a dialogue that will continue through EnforcingSickDays.org, a new website CLASP is launching this month. The site is a one-stop shop for enforcement materials developed by agencies, advocates, and researchers across the country. Demonstrating that paid sick days laws can be effectively implemented is essential to passage of new state and local and laws, and ultimately the federal Healthy Families Act.