Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Do You Take These Employees in Sickness and in Health?

Photo Credit: Joe Sohm / VisionsofAmerica / Getty

On March 9, 2016, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill requiring that employers provide their employees with paid sick days.  The new law will provide relief to approximately 60,000 employees. Starting in 2017, full-time employees will get 3 days off every 12 months, increasing to 5 days off starting in 2019.  

Providing paid sick leave benefits both the employer and the employee.  If employees do not have access to paid sick leave, they often go into work anyway, putting the health of others at risk.  Unsurprisingly, employees “without sick days are usually low-income.”  It is estimated that just “40 percent of private-sector service workers receive paid sick leave,” not including part-time workers.  In support of the new law, Governor Shumlin expressed special concern over employees in the food industry reporting to work while sick, where “90 percent of employees there have admitted to doing so, creating public health concerns.”  

Paid sick leave “reduces the risk of an outbreak of illness in the workplace, allows workers to recover more quickly and be more productive when they return to work, and reduces turnover and the costs associated with searching for, and training, new workers.”  Playing out in current events, Chipotle, following its recent Norovirus outbreak, announced that, effective July 1, 2016, it will offer hourly workers paid sick leave—benefits that were previously only offered to salaried workers.  Chipotle is offering paid sick leave to help “ensure that ill employees have no incentive to work while ill.”

More than one-third of all private-sector workers (about 43 million employees) do not have any paid sick leave.  Currently, there are no federal laws requiring paid sick leave.  The Family Medical Leave Act, however, does provide for “up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical situations for either the employee or a member of the employee’s immediate family.”  Compared to other countries, particularly in Europe, the United States lags considerably in providing paid sick days for workers.

President Barack Obama commended the recent Vermont law and urged the U.S. Congress and other states to follow suit. “This action means thousands of families will no longer have to choose between losing income and taking care of a sick child,” Obama said.  All Americans should be provided with this basic security.

California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon, in addition to several cities, including Washington, D.C., have passed similar laws. In December 2013, the D.C. Council, thanks in part to the advocacy of the Employment Justice Center, unanimously passed the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013. This amendment significantly expands the coverage of D.C.'s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008, to include tipped and temporary employees, and increases enforcement provisions and penalties.

Written by:  Aaron Herreras



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