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Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Enhanced Paid Sick Days in DC

By Claudia Williams

claudia williamsOn September 17, DC city councilmembers introduced the “Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013,” a proposal that would take the current DC paid sick days (PSD) law a step further in providing safeguards to workers in the District. While DC was among the first to pass citywide PSD legislation in 2008, the current law excludes a number of workers, and requires coverage only after workers have been employed by a particular employer for more than one year and 1,000 hours. The proposed amendment to DC’s existing policy, would not only expand protections to even more workers–including most tipped restaurant workers–in the District of Columbia, but also enhance enforcement and outreach efforts to reduce non-compliance reported in June 2013 by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor.

This week, I testified before the DC City Council and shared findings from IWPR’s analysis of the probable impact of this amendment to DC employers. Using the parameters of the proposed legislation and publicly available data, IWPR researchers estimated some of the anticipated costs and benefits to employees and employers that might result from providing earned sick days to newly covered workers. Our analysis shows that if the amendment is enacted:

  • Employers of newly covered workers can expect to spend $5.60 per worker per week in providing new earned sick days in the District of Columbia (or $5.9 million per year for all newly covered workers).
  • At the same time, providing new earned sick days is expected to yield benefits of $7.9 million—or $7.45 per worker per week—resulting in a net savings for Washington D.C.’s employers of approximately $2 million annually.

While there are certainly costs associated with implementing a new paid sick days policy, IWPR analysis shows that employers can expect see the cost of implementing this new policy more than offset by increased employee productivity, reduced costs associated with less contagion of communicable diseases, and reduced employee turnover.

Apart from these not-insignificant cost savings, there are other benefits to paid sick days that are more difficult to quantify but no less significant. In DC, these benefits are likely to include: improved health and more efficient utilization of health care; improved public health through reduced spread of contagious disease; and reduced expenditures on public assistance programs due to improved family economic security. There is a growing acknowledgement that many workers have financial responsibilities and caregiving responsibilities, a burden that often falls heavily on women workers, and could be eased with better access to paid sick days.

During the hearing at the DC council, many experts–and also workers–presented their testimony on the importance of minimum wage and paid sick days. Experts highlighted that, as we continue recovering from the recession, employee benefits are more crucial than ever. Worker after worker shared their experiences of having to choose between taking care of their and their families’ health, or making ends meet at the end of the month. Waiters and waitresses shared how instead of calling in sick, they showed up to the restaurant with contagious illnesses like the flu or norovirus because they couldn’t afford to take the day off.  Given the research, and the economic realities of many Washingtonians, who benefits from not providing paid sick days to workers?

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, specializing in paid sick days and the status of women in the states. Mallory Mpare contributed to this post.

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