Connecticut Becomes First State to Mandate Paid Sick Leave

Earlier this week, Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill (SB 193) making Connecticut the first state in the nation to require certain businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees. The new law seeks to address a potentially serious public health issue - when confronted with the possibility or losing pay or possibly their job, many employees come to work even when sick. 

Under the new law, businesses in the service industry with 50 or more employees must allow full-time workers to accrue one hour of sick time per every 40 hours worked.  The bill exempts manufacturers, salaried workers, temporary workers, and employees of nationally chartered nonprofits.  Workers qualify after four months of employment. 

Supporters of the bill estimate that between 200,000 and 300,000 workers in the state will benefit. Nationwide, more than 44 million private-sector workers (42 percent) lack paid sick days, according to a March 2011 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Paid sick leave varies widely by industry - for example, 77 percent of food service workers lack access to paid sick leave compared to just 12 percent of employees in management positions.  In addition, access to paid sick leave varies by race, ethnicity, and gender, with Hispanic men least likely and Asian men most likely to have the benefit. 

In a statement, Governor Malloy praised the bill as "good public policy and specifically, good public health."  He added, “Why would you want to eat food from a sick restaurant cook? Or have your children taken care of by a sick day care worker? The simple answer is — you wouldn’t. And now, you won’t have to. Without paid sick leave, front-line service workers — people who serve us food, who care for our children, and who work in hospitals, for example — are forced to go to work sick to keep their jobs. That’s not a choice I’m comfortable having people make under my tenure, and I’m proud to sign this bill when it comes to my desk.” 

Opponents in the business community argued that providing paid sick days would be too costly and would be misused by employees.  

However, according to the Center for Worklife Law, the cost to employers of "presenteeism" - employees coming to work sick - is actually greater than the cost of absenteeism.  Employees who come to work sick are less productive, make serious and costly errors, and take longer to recover thereby reducing their productivity for a longer period of time.  In addition, sick employees can pass their illness to co-workers, which just compounds the lost productivity. 

2006 report found that employees coming to work while sick accounts for 78 percent of the loss of worker productivity for businesses, which accounts for $180 billion annually.  Absenteeism accounts for just 22 percent.  The report concludes that savings created by paid sick leave will outweigh the costs in the long run.

Studies conducted in San Francisco, which enacted the nation's first mandatory paid sick leave policy in 2007, have concluded that both workers and employers think the law is functioning well, and that employers generally support the law and report relatively few adverse effects.

In February, the Institute for Women's Policy Research released the first empirical research on the effects of the mandatory paid sick leave requirement.  The study of 727 employers and 1,194 employees found that two-thirds of employers support the law. It also found that it is rare for employees to misuse paid sick days and that workers tend to save them for emergency use and as a result, ended up using far fewer than the maximum allowed.

Similarly, a study by the Drum Major Institute found "no evidence that businesses in San Francisco have been negatively impacted by the enactment of paid sick leave."  Since 2007, both job growth and business growth in the city has been consistently greater than in neighboring counties in the Bay Area without such a sick leave policy, including for both small and large businesses and businesses in retail, food service, and tourism industries.  The report concludes that "although there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that paid sick time increases employment or business growth, the main findings here are consistent with a large and growing body of research that shows paid sick leave to be a cost-effective policy with positive outcomes for employers and employees, including increased worker productivity, reduced spread of illness, and other health and economic benefits."

To date, requiring paid sick leave has been a local issue.  Currently, both San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have such laws.  In San Francisco, workers are given one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job, and can accrue up to 5 days for businesses with less than 10 employees and 9 days for larger companies.   In Washington, D.C., the amount of sick time accrued varies widely depending on the size of the employer, ranging from one hour per 87 hours worked up to a maximum of three days per year for employers with 24 or fewer employees to one hour per 37 hours worked up a maximum of seven days per year for businesses with 100 or more employees.  

The Philadelphia City Council recently passed legislation that would have required businesses to allow their workers to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked - up to 7 days a year of earned sick time for businesses with 11 or more employees and up to 4 days of paid sick time per year for businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Businesses with 5 or fewer employees would be exempt.  However, Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed the bill, and it is uncertain if there are enough votes in the city council to override the veto.   

In 2008, Milwaukee voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative to mandate paid sick leave. However, the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature passed legislation (SB 23) this year pre-empting the city's law and prohibiting other jurisdictions in the state from mandating paid sick leave.  

In addition, Denver voters may tackle the issue via a ballot initiative in November, after supporters gathered three times the required signatures to put the measure on the ballot.   Similar measures are pending in Seattle and New York City.