While Congress Stalls, The Country Has Now Passed 30 Paid Sick Leave Laws

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On Monday evening, Plainfield, New Jersey became the 30th place in the country to ensure that all workers can take a paid day off if they or their family members get sick.

The paid sick leave law will mean the estimated 10,000 workers in the city who previously had no access to leave will be covered. Those workers will now be able to earn up to five days a year at businesses with 10 or more employees or three at smaller ones, although people who work in jobs that bring them in contact with the public — food service and child care, for example — will get five days regardless.

“Our community is now part of a growing statewide and national movement for a basic workplace right that people in every other developed country around the globe take for granted,” Christian Estevez, a Plainfield resident and president of the statewide Latino Action Network, said in a statement. The United States is the only developed country without a guarantee for all workers. “Getting sick should never mean getting fired. Now, at least in the City of Plainfield, it never will.”

Plainfield is the 12th municipality to pass such a law in New Jersey, which has seen a wave of them go into effect, and combined with a similar law that was approved by voters in neighboring Elizabeth, 40 percent of people in the surrounding county now have paid sick days. Advocates are still pressing forward on a statewide bill.


CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Just ten years ago, only one city, San Francisco, had a law mandating paid sick leave for all workers. Now five states and many other cities have passed their own, spurred by local organizing and President Obama’s call to push forward on laws at the local level while Congress stalls on enacting a federal law. Obama has also issued an executive order requiring all federal contractors to give their employees at least seven paid days.

Even with all that action, however, about 40 percent of Americans don’t have access to a paid day off for illness. And those who make the least, therefore least able to afford a day without pay, are also the least likely to get the benefit at work.

Studies show that workers who get paid sick leave are more likely to get medical care and take days off when they’re sick. They have also found that in places with sick leave requirements, employers haven’t found the laws costly or hard to comply with and the vast majority support them, while job growth has remained strong.