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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.

IWPR Recommends Thorough Assessment of DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

In honor of Labor Day and the 44 million workers around the country who lack paid sick leave, IWPR released a briefing paper that recommends the Auditor of the District of Columbia conduct a thorough and complete review that shows the impact of the city’s paid sick leave policy. In March 2008, the District of Columbia joined San Francisco to become only the second jurisdiction in the United States to pass a paid sick days law. Reviewing the law for the breadth of its impact on businesses, workers, and the economy, is important as legislation moves forward in other parts of the country.

Since the passage of the DC paid sick days law, the city of Seattle and the state of Connecticut also added legislation to provide workers with paid sick days. Seattle’s paid sick leave law was actually implemented over this Labor Day weekend. Other state and city jurisdictions across the country are considering similar paid sick days legislation since access to paid sick leave can be crucial for helping workers maintain their health and well-being.

Access to paid sick days is important for working families and especially important for women since they tend to be primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives. When a child needs to stay home from work because of the flu, it is important that a worker be able to securely afford the time off to be a caregiver.

DC’s was the first law to require provisions for victims of domestic violence to seek aid or services. Time off accrued under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act can also be utilized to seek medical, legal or other services to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As one of the pioneering cities to pass a law requiring paid sick days for its workers, DC may serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering similar laws. According to research from IWPR, there are significant benefits to having paid sick days laws that impact employees, the general public, and businesses. Based on a survey of workers and employers in San Francisco who were affected by that city’s paid sick leave law, IWPR found that two-thirds of businesses supported the law. IWPR research analyses have also shown that workers who have access to paid sick days tend to have better self-reported health.

Under the current DC paid sick days law, the Auditor of the District of Columbia is required to conduct a review, based on an audit sample of District businesses, to ensure that the law is being properly implemented and that employers are not circumventing requirements through hiring patterns. But to meet the end goal of the Auditor’s report, which is to assess the economic effects of the law on the private sector, IWPR recommends a more complete assessment.

IWPR recommends that the Auditor undertake a survey of workers and employers to ensure that compliance is being undertaken. A survey of workers would help to get the full story on how well the law has been implemented or its effectiveness in covering workers who may need to take time off when they or a family member is ill. This survey would also help determine if workers are aware of the law. In surveying workers for an assessment of San Francisco’s paid sick leave legislation, IWPR found that many workers covered under the city’s paid sick leave law were not aware of it.

Also, IWPR recommends that the Auditor take advantage of data sources that already exist that can provide evidence of any net effect of the law on the number of businesses and employees in the District. Finally, IWPR recommends the creation of an advisory committee with experts on paid sick leave, lending greater context and better evaluation to the study.

The steps recommended in IWPR’s briefing paper could help to create a more effective and comprehensive assessment of DC’s Accrued Leave and Safe Leave Act that would serve as a model for other cities. Understanding how the law will is being implemented will demonstrate its full impact beyond the books, serving as a living example for other cities to help improve health and well being of their workers.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR Hosts 22nd Annual Summer Intern Social

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research hosted its 22nd annual summer intern social on Thursday, July 14 at the Stewart Mott House. IWPR summer interns worked together to coordinate all aspects of the successful Midsummer Mixer event, which was attended by over 200 interns from nonprofits, think tanks, and congressional offices around Washington, DC. Members of IWPR staff, including President Dr. Heidi Hartmann, were inspired to mingle with the next generation of researchers, advocates, and policy makers in a casual setting. The Midsummer Mixer was co-sponsored by the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Below is a selection of photos from the event. Check out our full collection of photos here!

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