The Right to Sick Leave

by EILEEN APPELBAUM

The tide is turning in the debate over whether all employees should be able to earn paid sick leave. The benefits for those who need to be able to take a day off when they have the flu or want to keep a sick child home from school have not been in doubt. From a people perspective, it has never made sense for workers to face the hard choice between going to work sick or staying home and losing a day’s pay and maybe even being told not to bother coming back. Managers and professionals have always been able to use paid sick leave to recover from a routine illness, of course.

The sticking point has been whether American companies could create jobs and would stay in business if they had to allow hourly workers to earn paid sick days. Business organizations and lobbyists ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the National Restaurant Association answered with a resounding “No!” And in some places, that was enough to scuttle efforts to make a minimum number of paid sick days an employment standard that all workers could rely on—although business owners have been part of all the campaigns for sick days and essential to its success in several places.

The argument that paid sick leave is bad for the economy is much more difficult to make today. As the editors of Philadelphia’s newspapers noted on March 5 as they explained why they changed their position and now support a paid sick days ordinance in Philadelphia,

…what’s also changed is a few years of hard times for many workers, including a confluence of worker-punishing trends … while worker productivity in the U.S. has surged, income and wages have stagnated.

Workers who lack earned sick leave, the editors argued, are vulnerable to job loss and hits to their income that weaken the city’s economy and cost everyone more in higher health and social service costs.

Just as important, we can now draw on the experiences of business owners in Connecticut and in cities such as Seattle, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, which have had a paid sick leave policy since February 2007. A study of the effects of the San Francisco paid sick leave ordinance  found that the law is rarely abused by workers, most of whom don’t use all their sick leave. And the law is supported by two-thirds of employers, 90 percent of whom report that they have felt little impact from it. The senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce characterized the effects of the earned sick leave ordinance as “fairly benign”.

In Connecticut, labor department data on employment showed that jobs increased in the state’s hospitality and health sectors since the law passed. This led the CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce to endorse Connecticut’s paid sick leave initiative.

There has been push back from the business lobbyists, of course. With official employment data showing jobs increasing in the Connecticut industries most affected by the law—in sharp contrast to the predictions of many restaurant companies prior to passage—industry lobbyists needed a new line of attack. The Employment Policies Institute, founded by long-time fast food industry lobbyist Richard B. Berman, unveiled a report  purporting to show that even if employment didn’t decline, there were other terrible impacts on Connecticut businesses. But the shoddiness of the research undermines the report’s claims of economic harm.

According to the authors of the report, the 156 companies they surveyed consisted of a hand-picked group of business owners provided “by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut Restaurant Association….The results,” they write, “should not be interpreted as being representative of the experience of all businesses in the state.” Their survey began in April 2012, not quite four months after implementation of the law and too soon for any part-time workers or most full-time worker to have used any paid sick days. When it was completed in October, nearly half of the businesses in the study still had no experience with an employee who used a paid sick day earned under the new law.

Much of the survey substituted conjecture for experience, and respondents were encouraged to speculate on whether they would hire fewer workers in the future, offer fewer raises, require employees to pay more for their healthcare, or raise prices for their products. Even among a group of respondents most likely to report negative effects, the great majority do not intend to do any of these things. Less than a quarter expect to hire fewer workers, raise employee contributions for healthcare, offer fewer raises, or raise prices. It’s not possible in any case to put much credence in the study.

In the meantime, encouraged by the lack of evidence of job loss as a result of letting workers earn paid sick leave as well as the urgency to keep pay in people’s pockets, legislators in the states of Maryland, Washington, and Massachusetts, and in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Portland are considering requiring employers to allow workers to earn paid sick days. In many parts of the country, the idea that workers should not have to go to work sick is gaining a serious hearing.

Eileen Appelbaum is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This article originally appeared on Economic Intelligence.

Eileen Appelbaum is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire