sick-days.jpgConnecticut is poised to become the first state mandating that employers provide paid sick days for employees, and the battle lines include workers advocates on one side who see this as a turning point for employees when it comes to work-life balance, and business interests on the other side predicting the legislation would be costly and undermine companies during a shaky recovery.

The bill was approved by the Connecticut Senate last week and is now headed for the House. After the Senate passed the legislation, both sides came out swinging.

“This is just a terrible piece of legislation. This is an anti-jobs, anti-business bill, despite what was said on the floor. We’ve done nothing — again, nothing — to encourage businesses to grow in Connecticut,” said Joseph Brennan, the senior vice president and chief lobbyist for the 10,000-member Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

“This vote brings the promise of earned paid sick days one step closer to reality for hundreds of thousands of workers in Connecticut who currently have no paid sick time, and its passage is a testament to the hard work of the Everybody Benefits coalition, and workers, researchers, and advocates throughout Connecticut and the country who are fighting for paid sick days standards,” according a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families.

It’s a unique debate given the United States is one of the only industrialized nations without a mandatory sick day law. Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland don’t have one either. Some states, including California and New Jersey, have passed paid family leave legislation but those are limited and don’t mandate that employers pick up the tab. The city of San Francisco and Washington DC have sick day laws, but no state, said Sadie Kliner, a spokeswoman for the National Partnership.

Only about half of all U.S workers in the private sector even get paid sick time, and the numbers are declining. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only 57 percent of private employers offer workers paid sick time, down from 59 percent in 2004.

And the numbers of even worse for low-wage earners.

This from New Jersey news website NJ.com:

Paid sick days are generally offered less often to employees earning low wages, the report said, with only 24 percent of food preparation workers getting the benefit. In contrast, 87 percent of management and 84 percent of legal employees received sick leave.

Karen White, director of the Work and Family Programs at Rutgers’s Center for Women and Work, finds the disparity troubling.

“We found that providing workers with sick days would have a positive public health impact. It would reduce the number of outbreaks of influenza,” White said.

Public health ramifications aside, the reasoning you often hear for not mandating such a benefit is it will cost our businesses and our nation as a whole too much money, and some say it wouldn’t really help workers that much.

But if it were the law of the land who would benefit?

Last year, Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report assessing the impact of a bill that would require such time off — the Healthy Families Act (S. 1152, introduced by former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, and H.R. 2460, introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro), and reintroduced last month by DeLauro and Sen. Tom Harken:

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the JEC estimated that:

* As a result of the Healthy Families Act, at least 30.3 million additional workers would have access to paid sick leave.

* The Healthy Families Act would significantly expand access to paid sick leave for many of America’s most vulnerable workers, including lower-wage workers, women, and minorities.

o Almost half of the increased access to paid sick leave (14.7 million additional workers) would accrue to workers in the bottom wage quartile;
o Nearly half (13.3 million workers) of the increased access to paid sick leave would accrue to women workers; and,
o Almost one-third of the increased access to paid sick leave would accrue to minority workers, including 3.9 million additional African-American workers and 5.6 million additional Latino workers.

· The Healthy Families Act would also significantly expand access to paid sick leave for workers in professions with critical public health implications. For instance, 5.9 million additional food service and preparation workers would have access to paid sick leave due to the Healthy Families Act.

And what would the impact be on businesses. California has paid leave mandates that include provisions for workers to take time off for ill family members as well.

I asked a business advocate in the state a while back what the mandate has done to employers:

“It wasn’t as dramatic an impact as a lot of people thought it would be,” says Mary Topliff, an employment law attorney in San Francisco. “It’s been fairly seamless for a lot of people.”

I also talked to a worker there:

Walt Yost, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, found himself taking advantage of California paid leave law after his father was diagnosed with dementia three years ago.

“He was taking care of my mom who didn’t drive and was dependent on him,” he says.

Yost ended up depleting much of his vacation time as he and his brother took time off to care for their parents.

He went to his human resource department and found out about the paid leave option and was able to take up to 30 days during a 12-month period to help out his parents.

“I was going to take the time regardless, but it took some of the financial pressure off,” he says.

It seems to make a lot of sense, and it seems to be the compassionate thing to do.

“It’s wrong that millions of workers have to choose between their paycheck and their health,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Joint Economic Committee. “It’s also bad public policy: sick employees are less productive and can spread contagious illnesses to their co-workers and others with whom they interact.”

The Connecticut bill, referred to as the “AN ACT MANDATING EMPLOYERS PROVIDE PAID SICK LEAVE TO EMPLOYEES,” is expected to pass the House this week, and is strongly supported by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

What’s your take?

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