Last week, Oregon’s Senate and House passed a bill that requires businesses with 10 or more employees to let them earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year. Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the bill, which would make her state the fourth in the nation mandating paid sick days. Connecticut was the first state to pass a paid-sick-days law, in 2011, and California’s legislature followed in 2014. In Massachusetts, advocates introduced a ballot proposal on earned sick time, and the state’s voters approved it in the 2014 election.
The original version of Oregon’s bill would have applied to all employers and allowed the accrual of up to seven days of paid sick time; it was amended to cover employers with 10 or more workers and allow for five paid sick days annually. George Rede reports in The Oregonian:
Proponents said the final bill won’t satisfy everyone, particularly the agriculture industry, but they called for its passage nonetheless as a long-overdue step to help low-wage workers and reduce public health risks.
“This is a policy that’s been years in the making,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, a chief sponsor of the bill. “Too many Oregon workers have to face that decision of staying home themselves with a sick child or losing a day of pay.”
Some 71 percent of low-wage workers in Oregon lack paid sick time, in contrast to higher-income workers who typically have that benefit, proponents said.
“It’s time we took a very small step to address income inequality by providing a small measure of job security,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who carried the bill as chairman of the House Committee on Business and Labor.
Rede notes that two of the state’s cities, Portland and Eugene, had already passed paid-sick-days laws. Proponents reportedly argued that a consistent statewide policy would be preferable to having different municipal laws.
The news came on the heels of Chipotle’s announcement that it will offer hourly workers paid sick leave, paid vacation, and tuition reimbursement. The company’s salaried employees already have access to those benefits. From a public-health standpoint, it’s important for the people who prepare and serve food to have the ability to take time off work to recover from an illness, rather than dragging themselves to work sick because they can’t afford to lose the pay. However, fast-food workers are among the least likely to have access to paid sick days. An Institute for Women’s Policy Research analysis of 2013 National Health Interview Survey data found that only 21% of workers in Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations and 28% of those in Personal Care and Service reported having paid sick leave.
I applaud Chipotle for taking this important step, but I know it would be best for our nation’s health if we had a uniform requirement for employers to let their workers earn paid sick time. The American Public Health Association has adopted a policy statement calling for the US to improve access to paid sick and family leave; it notes: “Lack of paid sick leave can have substantial adverse consequences for public health, including the spread of infectious disease.”
The Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to 56 hours of job-protected sick time per year, has been reintroduced in the current Congress, but doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
I suspect we’ll need to see several more states pass their own paid-leave laws in order for a US law to gain sufficient momentum. Perhaps New Jersey will be the next state, since so many of their cities have passed their own paid-sick-leave legislation: Jersey City, Newark, Passicac, Paterson, East Orange, Irvington, Montclair and Trenton, according to the May 2015 update from the National Partnership for Women and Families. New Jersey’s legislature will likely need a veto-proof-majority to make the decision stick, though.
In a study just published in the journal Women’s Health Issues (disclosure: I’m the journal’s managing editor), researchers from Rutgers University and Widener University analyzed data from a 2013 poll of New Jersey adults and found that a preponderance of respondents in most sociodemographic categories supported proposed paid-sick-days legislation in the state. I’m not surprised that they found women to be significantly more likely than men to support such legislation, because women are disproportionately burdened by inadequate paid-leave policies.
Paid sick days can help narrow the economic gap between hourly and salaried workers, level the playing field for men and women, and improve public health. I expect the momentum for these laws will only keep building.