More than 40 million American workers get no paid sick leave. They have to work when ill or take unpaid sick days, which can lead to financial hardship, or, worse, dismissal. The best way to address this workplace and public health problem is with a national law requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave — a normal benefit for workers in at least 145 countries.
But since there is little hope for such progress anytime soon in Washington, New York City Council members are taking up the cause. At least 36 of 50 council members support a proposed city law that would require sick leave for more than 1.2 million workers. Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, has refused to bring a bill to the floor, however.
She argues that the timing is bad given the weak economy and that the benefit could increase compensation costs for businesses by an average of 1.5 percent, which in her view would hurt smaller companies to the point of driving them out of business or out of the city. Some business leaders say that companies will cut jobs if even a few days of sick leave are required.
Little evidence to support such fears has been seen in San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of Connecticut, which require many businesses to provide the benefit. There are also economic benefits — lower turnover, higher productivity and morale, and reduced job loss for workers. But Ms. Quinn, who says she supports paid sick days in principle, does not want to consider a citywide sick-leave law until the economy is stronger.
The current council proposal would require firms with 5 to 19 employees to provide workers five paid sick days a year, which could also be used to care for sick family members. Businesses with 20 or more employees would have to provide nine days a year of any type of paid leave. The proposal would not cover independent contractors, interns or most union workers. There would be a one-year grace period for new businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
Ms. Quinn and Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, should be able to find a workable compromise. The requirement could be phased in slowly, especially for new companies and the smallest businesses. If done wisely, New York City’s version could be the sensible model for federal legislation.
Ms. Brewer, Ms. Quinn and other New York City political leaders should also put more pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to pass a state measure on paid sick leave.
Connecticut’s law, enacted last year, requires sick leave for most businesses with 50 or more employees. That still leaves far too many employees without paid sick days, but it is a start. Gov. Dannel Malloy said recently that the law had not led to more small business failures and that the state had gained jobs since it took effect.
This benefit is also good for public health. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that workers who could take sick leave instead of working while unwell were less likely to be hurt on the job.
American workers should have paid sick leave, and New York City could set a standard for the rest of the nation. Workers in the city deserve a sensible and humane sick-leave benefit now.