In nearly 150 countries, paid sick leave is a matter of law. The United States, however, is not one of them.
Indeed, not only is there no federally mandated paid sick leave in this country, but only one state has such a law on its books. And that state-Connecticut-enacted the requirement only a year ago.
Should more states-or Washington-follow in Connecticut's footsteps? Many people think so. And with a particularly hard flu season this year, the push to require businesses to provide some paid sick leave to their employees has come to the fore again.
At a glance, this issue seems like a no-brainer. It's not simply a matter of economic fairness-studies have shown that a large majority of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days-but also of public health. Many ill employees go to work because they cannot afford to stay home, often spreading colds, the flu and other illnesses to their co-workers and the public.
Opponents of a legal requirement to provide paid sick leave to employees maintain that it is nothing more than a tax and businesses will respond by limiting raises or even cutting workers' pay-or jobs.
Perhaps some employers would, but the fact that two-thirds of businesses already provide paid sick leave suggests it is not the burden some contend.
That said, devising a sensible mandate-whether at the state or federal level-could be trickier than it might seem. The Connecticut law, for example, requires employers to give full-time workers up to five paid sick days a year for themselves or to care for a child or spouse. However, it has exceptions for firms with fewer than 50 employees, most manufacturers, nationally chartered non-profits and more.
The Paid Sick Leave Act introduced by New York lawmakers in 2011 would require businesses with fewer than 10 employees to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each year; larger companies would be required to provide up to 80 hours. This definition of a "small business" puts a heavy potential burden on firms with only a dozen or so employees.
While the prospects for this legislation are uncertain, the business community has the means to make it beside the point-by calling on all employers to act voluntarily.
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