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Chicago Lawmakers Unanimously Vote To Guarantee Workers A Paid Day Off If They Get Sick

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PAUL BEATY
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PAUL BEATY

On Wednesday, the Chicago city council unanimously passed a paid sick leave bill that will mandate that most employers offer five paid days off a year for illness.

The new law will mean more than 460,000 city residents who previously lacked a paid day off if they or their family members fell sick will get paid leave, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, although construction workers were exempted from it because they often work for multiple employers throughout the year. The definition of family member is also somewhat expansive, including anyone with “close association” with the employee who is taking time off. It will take effect in July 2017.

The passage in Chicago means that all three of the country’s largest cities have required paid sick days, joining the 27 cities as well as five states that have passed bills. More than 1.6 million people have been covered by new paid sick leave requirements in the last month alone, according to the National Partnership. Chicago also continues the new trend of laws taking hold in the Midwest, joining Minneapolis’ passage last month, after the victories had been concentrated on the coasts.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Outside of the cities and states that have passed laws, however, about 40 percent of Americans in the private workforce can’t take a paid day off if they or their families get sick. The United States is the only developed country without a national requirement, and it is also an outlier when it comes to our lack of a guarantee for paid family leave, paid vacation time, and paid holidays.

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Business groups in Chicago opposed the passage of the paid sick leave ordinance, with Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Theresa Mintle saying in a statement, “Mandated paid sick leave is another cost neighborhood businesses will have to absorb at a time when they can least afford it.” But the evidence from those places that have already enacted paid sick days is that businesses will do just fine, and perhaps even thrive. Employers in Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C. report that the mandates haven’t been costly to comply with and have even brought some benefits. The majority of businesses now support the laws in San Francisco and Seattle. Meanwhile, job growth has been strong and sometimes even stronger than before the laws took place in Connecticut, San Francisco, and Seattle.

None of this has stopped a countervailing movement among conservative states, however, to pass laws preempting cities’ and counties’ abilities to require paid sick leave and/or higher minimum wages. Twenty states have now passed this preemption legislation.