California Becomes The Second State Ever To Guarantee That Sick Workers Can Take A Paid Day Off

Early on Saturday morning, the California Senate passed a bill guaranteeing at least three paid sick days a year for about 6.5 million workers, sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Brown’s office said it supports the bill, and in a statement after it passed he said, “Tonight, the Legislature took historic action to help hardworking Californians.” Assuming he signs the bill, California will become just the second state ever to guarantee paid sick leave and the law will be the tenth in the nation.

The bill would require employers to provide sick leave to employees who work 30 or more days within a year, allowing them to accrue at least one hour for every 30 they put in. Currently, about 44 percent of the state’s workers don’t have access to a single paid day off if they or a family member gets sick.

It does, however, have a big carve out, as last minute negotiations between the bill’s author and Gov. Brown left out those who care for the elderly and disabled in their homes. That change led labor unions, which had made the bill a priority for the year, to pull their support, but it secured the governor’s backing.

California joins Connecticut, the first state to guarantee its residents have paid sick leave. If that state’s experience is a guide, the California Chamber of Commerce, which called the state’s bill a “job killer,” should have nothing to worry about. A year and a half after Connecticut’s law took effect, most employers said the costs had been negligible or non-existent, abuse hadn’t cropped up, and many actually saw benefits. More than three-quarters support the law, with nearly 40 percent saying they’re very supportive.

The same story has played out at the city level. Jersey City, NJ; Newark, NJ; New York City; Portland, OR; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; and Washington, D.C. have all passed paid sick leave laws. San Francisco saw business growth increase and no harm to jobs, and a majority of employers support the law. Seattle’s didn’t hurt business or job growth, and job growth was actually stronger after the law took effect, while businesses support it. And Washington, D.C.’s law hasn’t pushed business owners to move or discouraged them from opening up shop in the city.

Despite these positive experiences, the cities and states with paid sick days requirements remain rare. The United States is the only country among 22 rich nations that doesn’t have such a national requirement. That leaves about 40 percent of the country’s workers, or more than 41 million people, without access to a single paid day off if they get sick or need to care for family members who are sick. And low-wage workers are even less likely to have access to leave. Bills have been introduced in Congress that would guarantee access for all, but none of them have passed.

And some places have moved in the opposite direction. Ten have passed preemption laws that ban cities and counties from passing paid sick leave laws, with most of them happening last year.

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