Less than ten years ago, the United States didn’t have any requirements that workers get paid sick days if they or their family members fell ill. That made us a real outlier among developed countries, as more than 20 other peers have national paid sick leave requirements.
The country still doesn’t have a federal law. But in the intervening decade, 15 laws have been passed at the city and state level. Workers who live in those places can now rest assured that they can take off of work if they get sick and not have to miss a day’s pay — or even risk their jobs entirely.
That progress has gained particular momentum in just the past two years. In 2013, three cities passed paid sick days: New York City; Portland, OR; and Jersey City, NJ. This year has been even more active: Paterson, NJ and Irvington, NJ both passed law on Tuesday evening and California’s Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is signing a statewide law on Wednesday. They join Newark, NJ; San Diego, CA; Eugene, OR; Passaic, NJ; and East Orange, NJ. And more could come as groups push ballot initiatives and more statewide laws.
These paid days off have an impact in a number of ways. They ease life for low-wage workers especially, who are less likely to get the benefit as compared to higher-income workers and say they’re a higher priority than higher wages or other benefits. They help workers stay at home when sick — 90 percent of Americans currently say they still come to work — and thus reduce flu transmissions by as much as 11 percent. If men can take leave as easily as women, it could help erase the assumption that women are the ones who should leave work to care for sick kids.
And despite businesses claiming that paid sick days are a job killer and hurt employers and local economies, experience from the laws currently on the books shows the opposite is true. When polled, the vast majority of employers support paid sick leave ordinances. Paid sick leave hasn’t been found to hurt economies, and in fact many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.