Over 1 Million Workers to Receive Expanded Access to Paid Sick Days under New Federal Rule

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its final rule implementing President Obama’s executive order (EO) enabling employees of federal contractors to earn paid sick days beginning in January 2017. The DOL estimates that 1.15 million workers will be affected by this rule, including 600,000 workers who will gain access to paid sick days for the first time and an additional 550,000 who will see an increase in the number of days they can earn. The final rule is significant both because it is part of the incredible momentum of the national paid sick days movement and because its provisions are drawn from best practices and lessons learned in that very movement. As a result, it sets a fair and inclusive standard.

This final rule builds on the great progress made in 2016 to bring paid sick days to more workers. Since the original EO was released in September 2015, the state of Vermont and 11 cities and counties have passed paid sick days statutes. Local and state laws passed in the last decade have already established this protection for millions of workers, chipping away at the huge block of the workforce that lacks access; the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 64 percent of private-sector workers could earn paid sick days in 2015, up from 61 percent the year before. Over the same period, access jumped 12 percentage points in the West, largely due to the implementation of statewide paid sick days laws in California and Oregon. Along with state and local legislative action, the DOL’s final rule will fuel efforts to pass the federal Healthy Families Act, which would enable workers across the country to earn sick days.

Under the DOL rule, workers will be able to earn up to 56 hours of paid sick time per year. Notably, the new rule adopts an inclusive family definition advocates have supported for years specifying that employees will be permitted to use their paid sick days to care for themselves and those related by “blood or affinity,” which includes chosen family as well as blood and legal relatives. This family definition–which the federal government has been using for its sick leave and other policies since 1969 and has now been adopted in paid sick days laws enacted in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Chicago–has special significance to LGBTQ families, but will also meet the needs of many more workers in diverse families. The rule also enables workers to use their earned time as “safe time,” time away from work to seek treatment or legal assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Eighteen jurisdictions have already enacted laws that include safe time coverage.

As federal contractors implement the rule, they will learn what thousands of employers nationwide already know: paid sick days are good for business. During the rule’s comment period, several business members of Main Street Alliance, a progressive business association, submitted comments explaining how providing paid sick days helps them maintain employee morale and keep their employees and customers healthy.

The DOL rule, which implements President Obama’s EO, will help more than a million working families make ends meet while boosting federal contractors’ efficiency and productivity. CLASP applauds the EO and the DOL’s final rule and urges Congress to follow suit by passing the Healthy Families Act. As President Obama said in his most recent weekly address, “Paid sick leave isn’t a side issue, or a women’s issue, or something that’s just nice to have.  It’s a must-have.”