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No Reason to Wait on Paid Sick Leave

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Despite having a veto-proof number of supporters in the City Council, a bill that would guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick leave is being stalled by the business community. This is not particularly surprising, given that businesses have generally fought against raising workplace standards throughout our history.

Not surprising, perhaps, but frustrating given the vast field of research that shows paid sick leave does not negatively impact businesses (in fact, there are concrete benefits for businesses). Even more frustrating is that New York City's bill, which has the overwhelming support of city voters, has been effectively tabled by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, at least for the time being.

In an effort to show business leaders that they are being heard, Quinn has stated that she intends to waitfor the results of a study on paid sick leave--commissioned by big-business advocate Partnership for New York City--before moving the bill forward for a vote.

But delaying this bill is unnecessary; paid sick leave is successful policy that has a proven record of success. The bill would require employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave, one hour of leave for every thirty hours worked. Currently an estimated 1.65 million workers in New York, close to one-in-two workers, do not have any paid sick leave.

Laws like this are common around the globe. Around 145 countries require employers to provide paid sick leave and the U.S. is the only developed country not to do so. Recent research underscores that these laws have no negative impact on employment in the countries that adopt them.

While there is no federal law on paid sick leave here in the U.S., San Francisco became the first U.S. city to successfully implement paid sick leave requirements in 2006. And just like we're hearing from businesses now in New York, business leaders in San Francisco predicted that the paid sick leave law would ruin small businesses and lead to unemployment.

These dire predictions never came true. By looking at employment data, I found that after the paid sick leave law went into effect, businesses in San Francisco weathered the recession better than in neighboring areas that have no paid sick leave law, including Silicon Valley.

Instead, workers in San Francisco no longer have to choose between recovering from illness and getting their paycheck. But delay in New York City means that workers are still forced to make this choice. As a result, seven-in-ten low-income workers without paid sick leave report that they have gone into work while sick, putting coworkers and customers at risk of infection.

Waiting for the results of a pro-business study on paid sick leave won't tell us anything that we don't already know. We'll hear that businesses generally don't want to improve workplace standards. But improving these standards is critical for New Yorkers without paid sick leave and will even benefit businesses by reducing employee turnover and increasing productivity. And based on the success of paid sick leave laws elsewhere, the City Council should have no qualms about passing this bill.