Across the U.S., numerous states and cities have been recently passing bills that obligate employers to provide paid sick days, which have generated debate among employers and legislators, and have impelled some to overturn the laws.
In May, New York joined San Francisco, Washington D.C., and others as the latest city to pass this sort of bill. Under New York’s law, companies with 20 or more workers will have to provide five paid sick days starting in April 2014. Businesses with 15 or more employees have until October 2015 to obey.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS), about 1/3 of all employees don’t have access to paid sick days.
Those who defend the bills say that mandatory paid sick leave is a public health issue that will help to deter the spreading of disease by letting employees who are sick or have a sick child stay home without having to worry about losing that day’s pay or their job. Other supporters see it as an issue of work-life balance that will allow workers to take care of their family.
However, some employers are against these laws because they’ll raise their businesses’ costs, which could prevent them from hiring new employees or potentially cause firings. Some claim that big employers already offer paid leave and forcing them to comply with new regulations just adds another burden.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research senior economist Eileen Appelbaum says that the average cost increase to most employers offering paid leave is a one-time rise of 2 percent in payroll costs. She claims that mandated paid leave levels the playing field, saying that “workers in low-paid jobs haven’t had access to paid leave and that’s tremendously unfair.”
The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, promises up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to covered workers. Appelbaum, who is the former director of the Rutgers University Center for Women and Work, says that higher-paid employees might be able to afford unpaid time off, but most employees can’t go without a paycheck for very long.
According to the BLS, while employers are not required by law to give paid sick leave, around 75% do.