Paid Sick Days a Win-Win for California

Krista Collard

Every time I start to feel under the weather, I’m reminded of the wise words of a former supervisor. During cold and flu season she would always remind us that if we’re not feeling well or even just a little “off,” we should stay home. She’d sweetly say, “We don’t need a hero, guys. If you’re sick, please don’t come into the office. Stay home. Rest up.”

She had been around long enough to know that it took just one person trying to work with a cold to pass it around, and before long the whole staff would be down for the count. While she genuinely cared about our health and wellbeing, any smart supervisor understands that if the entire staff is ill, productivity goes down the tubes.

Fortunately for us, we had a few crucial things working in our favor. In addition to having paid sick leave negotiated into our staff’s collectively bargained contract, our office was located in San Francisco, the only city in California to have passed a law guaranteeing all workers paid sick leave. Also, most of our work could be conducted remotely which meant if we were feeling just a little under the weather, we could still work from home without risking getting our colleagues sick as well.

For many California workers, none of these benefits exist, but hopefully with passage of the new bill AB 1522, introduced Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80), that will soon change. AB 1522 would guarantee paid time off for every California worker to recover from illness, care for a sick family member or bond with a new baby. The new bill would also protect workers claiming this benefit from employer retaliation.

Here’s some food for thought:

• Approximately 7 million California workers have no options when they or a loved one is ill. A lack of protection puts our working families between a rock and a hard place: lose desperately need wages staying home to get better or go to work sick, frequently extending the length of an illness while putting colleagues and often the public at risk of catching the illness.

• An astounding 78% of those denied earned sick leave of any kind are those low-wage, service sector workers who deal most directly with the public.

• Working women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly half of all working mothers report they must miss work when a child is sick.

• It is estimated that those without any earned sick leave who miss three and a half days of work equates to losing wages equivalent to an entire family’s monthly grocery budget.

A poll conducted in 2011 found that San Francisco employers who have been implementing paid sick leave since 2007, not only found the new policy easy to implement, an astounding two-thirds of the city’s employers reported being “supportive” of the law and a whopping one-third reported being “VERY supportive.” That’s not all. The majority of businesses reported having seen a myriad of benefits, including lower employee turn-over rates, higher staff morale and motivation, overall higher productivity and little to no increased cost of implementation. 

In an interview about paid sick leave, Assemblymember Gonzalez told U-T San Diego about the importance of passing AB 1522, saying the answer has implications far beyond paychecks.

Assemblymember Gonzalez said:

We’re sending kids to school sick? What’s the cost of that? We have to look at this as a more community and societal-based program where we are all chipping in. You have to make a choice. Do I go to work sick and get paid or do I stay home?

Too many workers, such as those in restaurants, day cares for children, and homes for the elderly, are forced to come in, running the risk of spreading infections, some potentially deadly. Moreover, those who are parents often send their sick child to school because they cannot afford the time off. That ends up infecting classmates and teachers.

Overall, AB 1522 is a fair deal for California workers, families and employers. If passed, sick leave would kick in after 90 days of work, allowing employees to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked and giving employers the ability to cap available leave at three days per year. Sick leave could be used to care for a sick family member or as leave to allow domestic violence and sexual assault victims time to recover. The bill allows flexibility for workers and employers covered collective bargaining agreements, and AB 1522 includes anti-retaliation language to protect workers claiming the benefit. That’s one heck of a win-win for California.