Working for Business: Effects of Connecticut’s Earned Sick Leave Law

By Lauren French
The results are in: Connecticut’s earned sick days law has not hurt the state’s economy or taken a toll on individual businesses. These findings, which became public last week in a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the CUNY Murphy Institute, have given a big boost to other earned sick days campaigns gaining traction across the country.

In 2011, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to establish a statewide sick days standard.  The law requires all businesses that employ 50 or more individuals, excluding manufacturers and nationally chartered nonprofits, to provide hourly workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days per year. The law also prohibits employers from taking retaliatory or discriminatory action against employees who use paid leave.

The authors of the report conducted a survey of 251 employers covered by the law and did on-site interviews with managers. Despite business owners’ fears when the legislation was proposed, the survey revealed that the paid sick leave law has had little or no impact on employers. In fact, most employers are now in favor of it. “A year and a half after the law went into effect,” the report says, “more than three-quarters of the employers responding to our survey indicated that they now supported the law.”

Most employers reported that they addressed employee sick leave absences using cost-free measures such as assigning work to other employees, swapping shifts, or putting the work on hold. As a result, almost half of employers reported that implementing the law had no effect at all on their bottom line. Another 19 percent reported minimal cost increases of less than two percent.

Claims that earned sick leave would be a “job killer” also proved to be unfounded. As the report notes, “in the period since it took effect, employment levels rose in key sectors covered by the law, such as hospitality and health services, while employment fell in manufacturing, which is exempt from the law.”

During a webinar hosted by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Ruth Milkman, who co-authored the report with Eileen Appelbaum, said employer fears that the law would result in abuse were unfounded. “In fact, it seems clear that workers treat this as a form of insurance,” she noted. “They save it for when they need it.” The study found that 86 percent of employers observed no abuse.

Many employers also reported positive effects of the law, such as improved morale, increased productivity, and reduced spread of illness. In addition, as one human resource manager in the hotel industry noted, “the law ties into retention and turnover in a positive way.”

Lindsay Farrell of Connecticut Working Families said during the webinar that there has not been a business community presence during recent legislative attempts to weaken the law. “They don’t care,” she explained. “They thought this would be terrible and it isn’t.”

As this report demonstrates, paid sick leave laws have brought many positive effects to Connecticut employers without placing a burden on business. At a time when many states and localities are considering similar legislation, it is important that we separate fact from fiction and learn from Connecticut’s experience. This report goes a long way toward ensuring businesses, the public, and policymakers have a clearer picture of the effects of earned sick time on our communities.