March 21, 2013 Liz Borkowski, MPH 4Comment

Last week, Portland, Oregon, became the fifth US jurisdiction to require employers to let workers earn paid sick leave. (The state of Connecticut and the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC also have paid sick leave laws; Milwaukee voters also approved one, but then the state passed a law barring cities from adopting such policies.) Under the Portland ordinance, businesses with at least six employees will have to allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for each hour worked, up to 40 hours a year. Smaller employers can provide unpaid sick time.

The law will go into effect in 2014 — and there’s a possibility that by that time, the state of Oregon will have passed a paid sick leave bill that’s been introduced.

Philadelphia’s City Council also passed a paid-sick-leave bill last week, although Mayor Michael Nutter may veto it, as he did with a similar one in 2011. Mike Elk of In These Times reports that Comcast, which has more than 6,000 Philadelphia employees and does offer paid sick leave, strongly opposes the legislation — in fact, the company spent more than $100,000 last year lobbying against it. Union organizer Steve Smith tells Elk that Comcast workers are penalized for taking the paid sick days the company provides.

And yesterday, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Healthy Families Act in the House and Senate:

“Everyone should be able to take care of themselves and their families when they are sick without having to worry about losing their jobs,” said DeLauro, senior Democrat on the subcommittee responsible for funding the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. “But in today’s America too many of our workers are unable to do this and the economy suffers because of it. Showing up to work when you are sick costs employers a staggering $160 billion a year in lost productivity and further spreads sickness to others. Ending the current system will ensure people no longer have to choose between their health—or their families—and their paycheck.”

“A full forty percent of private-sector American workers have no access to paid sick days— meaning that they cannot miss a day of work without risking a day’s pay or even their job security. When illness or emergencies strike, millions of hardworking people must make an impossible choice between the job they need and their health and well-being—or that of their families,” said Harkin, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would have the security of knowing that they will be able to tend to their families and themselves without losing their jobs or their income.

“Paid sick days are also a matter of public health,” Harkin continued. “Seventy percent of low-wage workers—including food service, hospitality, nursing home care and child care employees—have no paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act can help stop the spread of illness, especially by those workers who have frequent contact with members of the public.”

The DeLauro-Harkin bill would allow workers to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of paid sick leave. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Employers that already provide paid sick time will not have to change their current policies, as long as their existing time can be used for the same purposes. Employers can also require workers to provide documentation supporting any request for leave longer than three consecutive days.

DeLauro has introduced this legislation in every Congress starting in 2004 — and, of course, her state of Connecticut is the only US state with a law requiring paid sick leave. A health impact assessment of the 2009 Healthy Families Act conducted by Human Impact Partners found that the law’s benefits would be greater for populations with greater need for medical and dependent care, and that it would likely result in reduced transmission of communicable diseases, including influenza, foodborne disease in restaurants, and gastrointestinal infections in healthcare facilities. They concluded, “the best available public health evidence demonstrates that the Healthy Families Act of 2009 would have significant and beneficial public health impacts.”

4 thoughts on “Advancing paid sick leave laws – from Portland to the US Congress

  1. This is a problem! Here is an example… my ex-wife works for a large chain of convienence stores here in Wisconsin. She is working the front counter, greeting and assisting customers, stocking product and ultimately processing the transaction on their way out as well. This involves handling money, debit cards, products etc.

    Here is the kicker… she is not allowed to call in without finding someone to cover her shift first. If she doesn’t, she faces discipline. Good luck trying to find somone last minute to cover a shift when you or your child are sick. Good luck finding someone last-minute on a warm, sunny day. Instead she is forced to work sick and expose her co-workers and the public to her ailment.

    if she doesn’t work sick, not only does she face discipline if she could’t get someone to cover her shift but she also doesn’t get paid which when your only making minimum wage, amplifies the problem. It just doesn’t make sense!

  2. The state of Michigan is going the other way (of course it is…) – the state legislature is debating a bill that would prevent local municipalities from enacting paid sick leave requirements. Just what I want – cashiers and food service workers sharing their germs with me!

  3. Do you really mean to say that paid sick leave is not a right in the USA? I’m simply stunned. I thought it was a universal thing in the developed world. It certainly is in Australia where I live.

    What gives?

    1. Yes, mandas, the US is way behind the curve on this one! We also don’t have paid parental leave, unlike most other advanced countries.

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