Survival of the Fittest From Paid Sick Days | Commentary
New York City workers as of the end of last month are now able to start using their earned sick leave. Since April, New York City workers in all but the smallest firms have able to earn up to five paid sick days a year to care for themselves or an ill family member. It is estimated that about 1.2 million workers will be able to take sick leave for the first time beginning July 30. Nonetheless, a staggering 41 million Americans remain without access to basic paid sick leave protections.
Undoubtedly, this new law is causing consternation among the many microbes and flu viruses now bemoaning how they will be stuck in bed watching “Law and Order” reruns while their host laps up tea and chicken soup instead of gleefully multiplying in the workplace by hopping from worker-to-worker and worker-to-customer. But healthy workplaces aren’t just good for workers or New York City businesses, they are also good for the U.S. economy.
While we will not know for sure how the paid sick days law plays out in New York City for a couple of years, we do know from similar laws in other parts of the country that paid sick days, like other policies that promote economic equality, are not “job killers.” This will be news to those who still put their faith in the unsubstantiated ideas of trickle-down economics.
In 2010, Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn refused to bring up the paid sick days law for vote, justifying this decision based on her view that the law was bad for the local economy: “I can’t make decisions that I believe might put people out of work and put businesses under. I just can’t do that in the name of anything.” In 2011, Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed paid sick leave legislation (twice) citing concerns about potential job loss and economic competitiveness.
What is striking about this explanation is how disconnected it is from the evidence. New York’s neighbor, Connecticut, implemented a statewide paid sick days law in 2012 and researchers have found that employers report a modest impact or no impact of the paid sick days law on their costs or business operations. Two dozen additional states and cities have paid sick day campaigns underway highlighting why this commonsense legislation provides economic and health benefits for both employees and the public at large.
This is not surprising. After San Francisco implemented a paid sick days law in 2007, researchers found that paid sick days benefited San Francisco’s economy. In the three years after implementation, San Francisco’s employment rose by 3.5 percent while falling in the five neighboring counties that do not provide paid sick days to their workers by 3.4 percent. The law was such an economic success that Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said that “by and large, [paid sick days] has not been an employer issue . . . San Francisco’s economy is booming.” And just this June, Mayor Nutter brought the issue back for debate by instituting “The Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave” to examine the potential impact on Philadelphia’s employees and employers.
In New York City, workers in low-paying jobs will benefit the most from the implementation of paid sick days, including a large share of workers in food service and caring sectors of the economy. That is, people whose job it is to deal directly with people. People with contagious diseases won’t feel pressure to show up to work sick, especially to prepare and serve food or care for children or the elderly — workers in New York City who currently do not have this option and are likely to pass their illness on to their colleagues and clients.
Paid sick days boost productivity by creating healthier and more productive work environments as well as improving the bottom line. Evidence overwhelmingly points to this policy as is the best path forward for workers family businesses and their customers.
Heather Boushey is executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a grantmaking and research organization. Alexandra Mitukiewicz is a researcher at Equitable Growth.