On Wednesday, the Washington State House passed a bill that would guarantee workers paid time off for an illness or to care for a sick family member.
The bill would allow workers at smaller companies to earn an hour of sick leave for every 40 they work, capped at five days a year, while those at companies with more than 250 employees could earn an hour for every 30 worked with a cap at nine days. The time off could be used to recuperate from workers’ own sicknesses or injuries as well as those of a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, or grandparent, and it could also be used to recover from domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. The Washington Work and Family Coalition, the group pushing the bill, says that it would cover 1 million workers in the state who currently don’t have access to paid sick leave.
The future of the bill is uncertain, however. While Democrats control the state House, the Senate is controlled by a Republican-led majority. The state has already been home to a city — Seattle — with paid sick days since 2012 and a small town just outside the city also now has an ordinance.
If Washington lawmakers are worried that a paid sick days law will hurt the state’s businesses, they can look to Seattle’s experience to assuage their fears. Job growth was actually stronger the year after the law went into effect, and the growth of new businesses and sales also increased. Connecticut, the only state so far with a paid sick leave policy, has also proved that similar results can happen on the state level. A large majority of the state’s businesses said it hasn’t had any effect on their business operations two years later and has come with no increase in cost or a small one. More than three-quarters support the law, likely thanks to the benefits they have seen such as increases in productivity, motivation, and morale and a reduction in turnover.
Other places have had similar outcomes. San Francisco saw an increase in employment and business growth, while businesses report little cost or impact on profitability, with two-thirds supporting the law. Washington, D.C.’s law didn’t discourage business owners from being located in the city.
The U.S. is the only one out of the 15 most competitive countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee all workers a paid day off for illness. Other states — California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont — are also working toward similar legislation. More progress has happened on the city level, as Newark became the seventh with a paid sick days law on Tuesday. At the same time, however, ten states have passed legislation banning cities and local communities from enacting paid sick leave.