This week, a proposal was introduced into the Chicago city council to guarantee that the city’s workers can earn paid days off when they or family members get sick.
The Earned Sick Time Ordinance, which has the backing of a majority of the city’s alderman, would allow workers at businesses with ten or more employees to earn up to nine days of paid sick leave a year and those at smaller businesses to earn five. The leave could be used if a worker falls sick, to care for sick family members, to get preventative care, or to recover from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. It could also be used when officials close schools or businesses for public health emergencies. According to the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition, 42 percent of the city’s private sector workers don’t have access to paid sick days, or about 461,000 people.
While businesses are often wary that such laws will bring added costs, they are likely to see a big gain if the ordinance were to pass. A report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that while the city’s employers would likely spend an extra $109 million a year, or about $0.22 an hour in higher wages for each employee, that figure would be more than offset by the benefits. Businesses would see an extra $116 million thanks to the savings from reduced turnover, $8 million thanks to higher productivity and lower absenteeism, and $4 million from reducing the spread of the flu. When the costs are weighed against the benefits, IWPR estimates that employers will see an extra $6 million in net savings.
The report also notes that the community stands to benefit: it will spend about $12 million less each year on health care expenses, mostly due to reduced emergency room use.
And the benefits to the workers themselves are clear. Carlos Romero, a deli worker in the city, recounted in a press release from the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition that he got sick with the flu but didn’t have any paid sick time. “I called my manager and said I would not be able to come into work,” he says. “I was told I would be fired if I did not show for work, so I went to work sick and put the customers and coworkers at risk. Days later, a coworker did catch the flu.”
Having paid days off would also help single mothers like Rhiannon Broschat, who works at a Whole Foods in the city. She was fired from her job for staying home with her son when schools were closed for winter weather.
If the law passed, Chicago would join seven other cities and the state of Connecticut in ensuring that workers get a paid day off. And the real world experiences from some of these places back up the idea that businesses have little to fear. In Connecticut, the law has come with very few costs, little to no abuse, and benefits for the state’s businesses, leading more than three-quarters to say they support it. Washington, D.C.’s has similarly had little impact on businesses, and San Francisco’s employers also support its law. The latter’s employment and business growth actually increased after it was passed, and Seattle’s job growth was stronger a year later with increasing sales growth.