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Is Paid Sick Leave Good for Business? (July 20, 2012)

By Caroline Winter
Bloomberg Businessweek

A group of influential women, led by feminist author Gloria Steinem, is making a renewed push in New York for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to allow a vote on a bill that would require businesses to give their employees paid sick leave. Two years after quashing that effort, Quinn says paid sick leave remains a worthy goal but that she is standing by her prior decision.

“With the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time,” she said in an e-mailed statement. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg Businessweek‘s parent company, also opposes the paid sick leave proposal.

Advocates for the measure contend it would primarily benefit low-income workers such as minorities and women. White-collar workers in New York and elsewhere—dentists, lawyers, and bankers, for example—typically receive pay for days they are out of the office, sick.

To date, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle, and Connecticut have enacted laws requiring that workers be paid for a certain number of days they are out sick. San Francisco in 2006 approved an ordinance allowing all workers to earn and use paid sick days, becoming the first U.S. city to do so. A 2011 Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) study based on surveys of 727 employers and 1,194 employees in San Francisco found that the effects were generally positive. Six out of seven employers reported no negative effects on profitability, and most said the new legislation had proven easy to implement.

Employees, it was found, rarely misused sick days, and—despite the availability of either five or nine sick days (depending on the size of the business)—the typical worker used only three. One quarter of employees used zero. Parents with paid sick days were also 20 percent less likely to send a child with a contagious disease to school than parents without the benefit.

“There hasn’t been a loss in employment and there haven’t been large negative effects on employers,” says Kevin Miller, a senior research associate at the IWPR. “A lot of opponents [of mandated sick day legislation] … say that the business costs will be huge, that small businesses won’t be able to sustain them, that workers will abuse the leave—and we know from data from San Francisco that these things simply aren’t true.”

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