Paid Sick Leave Is In The National Spotlight (And Employers Aren’t Thrilled)

All across the nation, state ordinances are being considered and even put in place to allow employees a more consistent and forgiving sick policy. But while experts maintain that these new pieces of legislation won’t bring harm to businesses, many stand in opposition and say that these policies are taking things too far.

In the U.S., one out of every three people goes to work when they’re sick. Often, this is due to a lack of sick day time (paid or unpaid). It causes illnesses to spread through office environments rapidly and ultimately decreases productivity, harming both employer and employee. Some local governments are taking a stand to protect workers by signing legislation that will allow for the accrual of paid sick leave in new ways.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy recently signed The Earned Sick and Safe Days Act, which will become one of the most expansive paid sick leave programs in the entire country. Under law, an employee will earn one hour of sick leave per every 30 hours worked, which will be capped at 40 hours. The law covers both public and private employees (except some of those in construction, healthcare, and public service, who are covered by other agreements) and will take effect on October 30, 2018.

Prior to signing the bill, Governor Murphy said, an estimated 1.1 million New Jersey workers were unable to earn paid sick leave. He and the bill’s sponsors maintain that the law will actually increase the value of doing business in the Garden State while simultaneously broadcasting the message that they value their workers immensely. While the New Jersey Business Association had previously expressed opposition to the mandate, the organization actually praised legislators for their collaborative efforts, saying that changes made to the law “will mitigate impacts on well-intentioned employers.”

But in Portland, Maine, some business owners aren’t happy about the idea of imposing a sick leave ordinance. The city is considering a proposal that would allow employees to earn one hour of sick leave per every 30 hours worked, with a cap of six sick days per year. Any unused time would roll over between years, but unused sick leave would not be paid to employees if they leave their jobs. Considering that the flu caused 71 deaths in Maine this past season alone and that 57% of organizations view employee retention as a problem, it seems that a law that could benefit an estimated 19,000 area workers would be a welcome concept for employers.

But while Mayor Ethan Strimling says the ordinance would have no negative impact on local businesses, some of those businesses say that a mandated sick leave policy is taking things too far. Critics of the ordinance are troubled by the idea that it would cover part-time and seasonal employees and are worried that employees would be tempted to abuse the system by taking advantage of sick time they don’t actually need. Still, some organizations are cautiously optimistic and are at least keeping a close eye on the legislation. If passed, Portland would become the first community in Maine to adopt such an ordinance; last year, the State Legislature actually turned down the idea of a statewide sick leave policy.

Some other cities have already taken action. Back in February, Austin, Texas became the first Southern city to implement a mandatory paid sick leave policy, which would provide paid sick time to approximately 87,000 workers. Their ordinance will allow workers to accrue up to 64 hours (or eight days) of paid sick leave in most instances. Small businesses with 15 employees or less can grant up to six days. In Austin, too, the law was met with resistance from business owners and organizations. Critics maintain that the policy would discourage new businesses from coming to Austin due to the costs and that small businesses — of which there are many in Austin, as the city led the nation in small business growth from 2010 to 2013 — would be harmed as a result.

Still, the motion was passed and is set to start in October 2018. Austin joins several cities that have adopted sick leave policies. And New Jersey is now in the company of California, Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington State, all of which have passed paid sick leave laws. Although some employers might not be thrilled, proponents hope business owners and organizations will weigh the cost of paid sick time against long term costs associated with lost productivity — and realize that if they want to retain workers, that might start by allowing them to stay home without fear of lost wages.

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