California becomes second state to mandate sick leave for workers

Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (AB 1522) into law which will require employers in the state to provide at least three days of paid sick leave annually for part and full-time workers beginning July 2015. This makes California the second state to pass such a law - Connecticut was the first state to do so in 2011. According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, the new law will provide “paid sick days to the millions of Californians - roughly 40% of the state's workforce - who do not currently earn this benefit”.

“Whether you're a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job,” said Governor Brown in a press release. “Make no mistake, California is putting its workers first.”

Many business-focused advocacy groups oppose sick leave mandates, saying that the additional requirement will stifle hiring and economic growth, particularly for small businesses. John Kabateck, executive director of the independent business federation in California, told the L.A. Times the mandate won’t be good for business. “Our small-business owners, who make up more than 99% of the employer community in California, already face an increase in minimum wage, among the highest taxes and more regulations than any other state,” Kabateck said. “This will only serve to eliminate any plans small employers have to grow and expand their businesses.”

According to a 2009 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. is the only nation among 20 developed countries that does not have a national mandate requiring some form of paid sick leave for workers. The Huffington Post says that 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses and in seven countries – Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Singapore – employers are required to provide at least 10 paid sick days.  

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in March 2014, paid sick leave in the private sector was most commonly offered to full-time workers (versus part-time) or to workers in medium and large establishments (versus small establishments). In total 61 percent of private sector workers had access to paid sick leave – 74 percent of full-time workers and 24 percent of part-time workers. For the public sector (state government and local government), nearly all full-time workers had access to paid sick leave (98 percent) while 41 percent of part-time workers received those benefits. Overall, 89 percent of state and local government workers had access to paid sick leave.

While California and Connecticut are the only states currently with a a paid sick leave mandate, more states may soon follow suit. A November 2014 ballot initiative in Massachusetts will ask voters to approve a similar mandate. CNN reports that at least six more states will take up the issue in 2015, including Colorado, Maryland and Vermont.