This op-ed appeared on the September 15, 2013 edition of the Star-Ledger.
Business lobbyists are lining up with guns blazing against proposals to provide earned sick days to workers in Jersey City, Newark and, ultimately, the entire state. They say these common-sense policies will harm businesses, lead to job loss and stifle a fragile economic recovery.
Too bad none of this is true.
But don’t take my word for it. Providing earned sick days is a growing trend, and we can look at the experience of the early adopters to see what’s actually happened.
In reality, businesses in cities and states that have extended this benefit to workers have seen no impact to their bottom lines – which makes sense, because earned sick days policies help strengthen the economy by creating a healthier, more productive workforce. (“Presenteeism,” the cost of employees’ lower productivity when working sick, is estimated to cost employers $160 billion a year.)
In each instance supporters saw the same song-and-dance routine from the opposition. Business lobbyists put on their best Chicken Little outfits and sketched doomsday scenarios that would come as a result of an earned sick days policy. Then what happened?
In San Francisco, which was the first city to implement the policy in 2007, researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research followed up a few years later with a broad survey of employers. The findings? Eighty-six percent of employers surveyed said the law didn’t negatively impact their profits and only a third reported any difficulties implementing it.
Another study of San Francisco, by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, found that job growth in San Francisco was much higher than in neighboring counties (where jobs actually disappeared) in the first three years after the law was introduced. The number of businesses created was also much higher in San Francisco than in the neighboring counties, in both large and small businesses, as well as the industries most impacted by earned sick days legislation: retail and food service.
Perhaps that’s why, after a few years of reality, two-thirds of San Francisco employers surveyed supported the policy. Even the head of the city’s restaurant association, which lobbied hard against earned sick days, had a change of heart after several years of actual experience with the law. “[It’s] the best public policy for the least cost,” Kevin Westlye said in 2010.
Up in Seattle, earned sick days went into effect a year ago. And after a full year under the law, the economy has not collapsed. In fact, the Seattle area has outpaced the rest of the state in job growth, even in the retail and food service industries, according to data analyzed by the Main Street Alliance of Washington, a coalition group of 2,500 small businesses in that state. In short, the economic trends that already existed in Seattle prior to passage of the ordinance continued, undeterred by the fact that employers were now required to provide earned sick days to their workers.
Closer to home, Connecticut – which enacted the first statewide earned sick days law in 2011 – has actually seen job growth, not contraction, in two sectors with large shares of workers who previously lacked earned sick days: Leisure/Hospitality and Education/Health Services.
The experience of other cities and states can only be taken as a clear sign that New Jersey’s business lobbyists oppose earned sick days only because they ideologically oppose any kind of government regulation, not because it will actually do harm to businesses or the economy.
In fact, most successful businesses try very hard to avoid rapid employee turnover, to minimize their recruitment and training costs and to hold onto hard workers. Allowing a worker afflicted with a contagious infection to stay home and get well is not only sensible and respectful of the worker, but also beneficial to co-workers, customers and the economy.
The bottom line is simple: When employers provide earned sick days to all workers, we all win.
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