THE BLOG

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Should Not Kill Philadelphia's Earned Paid Sick Days

03/19/2015 08:17 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

In February Philadelphia joined 16 other cities and three states that provide workers with guaranteed access to a few days of paid time off each year to recover from an illness or care for a sick child. This month, lawmakers in Harrisburg sought to undo this widely supported, common sense ordinance.

Polling data show that the overwhelming majority of Americans favors this type of sick leave legislation -- 81 percent overall, including 70 percent of Republicans. Studies of employers' experiences with paid sick days laws in San Francisco, Seattle and Connecticut find that concerns about the effects of paid sick days legislation on businesses proved to be unwarranted. Most employers report no or modest effects on costs and business operations. And after a year or two of experience with these laws, large majorities of employers in these three localities report that they are somewhat or very satisfied with the paid sick days law that affects them.

Indeed, employers have become increasingly aware of the business costs of not allowing employees to earn paid sick leave. Workers who show up sick at their job are less productive and may spread colds and flu to co-workers and customers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the spread of seasonal flus due to a lack of paid sick days costs U.S. businesses $10.4 billion every year. Everyone has a stake in this: no one wants flu with their fries.

Despite this evidence, business lobbyists continue to peddle misinformation about the effects of paid sick days on employers and steadfastly oppose a measure that most Americans consider simple common sense: workers should stay home when they are sick and not infect co-workers or the public.

Having failed to defeat paid sick days in Philadelphia, these groups are back with a new tactic -- they are pushing for the Pennsylvania state legislature to bar other municipalities in Pennsylvania from requiring employers to allow workers to earn paid sick days. To add insult to injury, the legislation, if passed, would be retroactive and would invalidate the Philadelphia ordinance.

Such legislative bans -- so-called preemption laws -- have a particularly pernicious effect on vulnerable workers and those in particular industries. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that private sector employers already provide paid sick days to 8 in 10 high paid professional and managerial employees; in finance and insurance, 9 in 10 employees have paid sick days. It's a different story for workers in the bottom quarter of the earnings distribution and for those employed in leisure and hospitality -- hotels, restaurants, resorts, and amusement parks. Only 3 in 10 of these workers have access to paid sick leave. Part-time workers fare even worse. While most employers provide paid sick leave for their full-time employees, only a quarter of part-time workers has any paid sick leave. These workers -- almost two-thirds of whom are women -- lose hours and pay when they stay home to recover from illness, and may even lose their jobs if they don't come to work sick.

A new analysis of the 2014 National Study of Employers coauthored by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that just four in ten employers report that their sick leave policies cover all their employees. While voluntary action by employers is commendable, this study makes it clear that it is not sufficient to guarantee that all workers have paid time off to recover from the flu or care for a sick child. Local ordinances that reflect community views of fair treatment of workers can enable millions more workers to earn paid sick time.

Pennsylvania -- my home state -- has always come out for family values. Making it possible for a parent to stay home with a sick child or recover from their own illness without sacrificing pay or risking their job helps build strong families. Philadelphia has shown the way; now the legislature should extend paid sick days to all Pennsylvania workers.