The Momentum for Paid Sick Days is Growing

By Eduardo Hernandez

On January 12, 2018, Maryland became the ninth state to adopt paid sick days legislation, overturning Governor Larry Hogan’s 2017 veto. The new law will go into effect in 30 days, leveling the playing field for employers and enabling over 700,000 workers to earn up to five days a year of paid sick leave. This leave can also be used as safe days to obtain treatment or assistance in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The law will apply to everyone who works for an employer with 15 or more employees.

The paid sick days movement has been gaining steam over the past two years. In September 2017, Rhode Island extended the benefit to 100,000 workers who don’t already have access to paid sick leave. The successes, challenges, and lessons from paid sick days victories were highlighted at CLASP’s third annual Making Paid Sick Days Work convening, which brought together over 100 advocates and state and local government officials. Participants shared best practices for ensuring all workers in their jurisdictions receive the paid sick days guaranteed by local and state laws.

The convening tackled hard questions like: How can enforcement agencies use settlement agreements to maximize worker protections and prevent employers from becoming repeat offenders? How can unions, community-based organizations, and agencies work together to maximize employer compliance? How do agencies navigate enforcement across jurisdictions? What is the extent of each jurisdiction’s statutory authority to enforce their laws?

Plenary panels centered on low-income workers’ lives and challenged participants to engage in strategic, proactive, industry-wide enforcement practices that deter noncompliance and strengthen complaint investigations. These practices are necessary in today’s political climate, where immigrant workers fear employer retaliation. Labor standards enforcement agencies must combat all labor violations, including paid sick days violations, as they work to protect all low-wage workers.

As we know, workers can only benefit from these laws if they’re strongly enforced and employers comply. Just two weeks ago, the city of Minneapolis settled its first case of retaliation under its paid sick leave law. The City was able to win an $11,000 settlement for a gas station employee who was wrongfully denied paid sick leave and essentially fired from the job, ultimately resulting in the loss of his home. This example once again illustrates the significant costs workers bear without these policies to protect them and why employers must face real consequences when they break the law.

During the keynote at CLASP’s convening, Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow Terri Gerstein recognized the important work that advocates and agency officials are doing at the state and local level. This work is creating the record and paving the way for federal legislation for all workers.

There are now 41 jurisdictions that have passed paid sick leave legislation in the U.S, with 31laws passing in the last two years. Local movements can offer valuable lessons to other state and local campaigns as well as advocates for the federal Healthy Families Act. Labor standards officials and advocates in these jurisdictions are uplifting the goals of economic security and public health that protects all working families.