But mandated paid sick leave still faces an uphill battle. It’s on the “kill list” of powerful business lobbying organizations such as the National Restaurant Association. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit, is even helping state and local governing boards pass pre-emptive legislation to prevent the future adoption of laws mandating paid sick leave.
Another obvious hurdle is the Republican House, where business interests are well-protected.
“Clearly it’s not going anywhere in the House,” noted Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who added that Democrats didn’t make the issue a priority when they enjoyed larger numbers in Congress. “If they were so concerned with this issue, that was the moment they had. At this stage, it’s hard for me to see they’ll make a big push on it.”
Even still, advocates are optimistic about the prospects for a federal paid-sick-leave law and they hope to capitalize on building national momentum, since so many states and cities are passing their own initiatives. Most recently, New York City reached a deal in late March that would require companies with 15 or more employees to provide five paid sick days each year to full-time workers.
“We are buoyed by successes in New York City, which provided more protections to people in one fell swoop than all current paid sick leave legislation combined,” said Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group at the forefront of the debate.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, employees can receive 12 weeks of medical leave, albeit unpaid, if they work full time at a business with 50 or more employees for a year or more. According to a recent Labor Department study, only about 1 in 6 work sites reports that it is covered by the law.
Many workers without paid sick leave at their company don’t bother to tap their unpaid sick leave because they can’t afford to miss a day’s earnings. Inability to afford the leave is the reason given by 46 percent of workers with unmet need for leave, according to the same Labor Department study.
Critics, however, point to a recent report that found that because of the expense of implementing a policy on paid sick leave, Connecticut businesses are increasing employee benefit costs or passing the costs on to consumers.
The study, by the Employment Policies Institute, surveyed 156 Connecticut businesses, 86 of which started providing sick leave to comply with the new law. Before the law took effect in January 2012, 31 of the businesses surveyed scaled back employee benefits or reduced paid leave, or both, to account for the cost of the law. Twelve cut back employee hours, and another six reduced employee wages.
In addition, 19 businesses raised consumer prices and six laid off employees. Another 16 businesses indicated they had decided to limit or restrict their expansion within the state.