On Wednesday, New Brunswick, New Jersey passed a paid sick leave ordinance. That makes it the 27th place in the country to do so, as well as the eleventh city in the state.
The news was received with mixed support by advocates. It marks another step forward in the wave of legislation that has swept the country and helps address the fact that 40 percent of workers in the city previously lacked paid leave for their own or a family member’s illness. But it is also less robust than the policies adopted by other cities in New Jersey.
New Brunswick’s law exempts employers with five employees or less, per diem, temporary hospital workers, and part-time employees who work less than 20 hours per week. It also caps the amount of leave part-time employees who work less than 40 hours a week can earn and allows employers to demand a doctor’s note for sick leave taken on “blackout days” such as federal holidays.
By contrast, all of the other New Jersey municipalities have required all employers to let workers earn between three and five sick days a year. Jersey City at first exempted small businesses but expanded the ordinance in October.
The city’s law does have some requirements that others in the state don’t, however. It explicitly covers temporary employees who work for staffing agencies based in New Brunswick. It also specifies that the leave can be used to deal with sexual assault and stalking, something the others fail to do and has sometimes been left out of laws in other places in the country.
“New Brunswick’s paid sick days ordinance is a strong first step and includes many worthy provisions, including protections for temporary workers,” Reynalda Cruz, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick based community organization New Labor, said in a statement. “But no one should have to go to work sick just to make sure they have a paycheck to make ends meet, so we urge the council to strengthen the ordinance by extending full protection to part-time workers, workers in small business and per diem hospital workers.”
Even with the carve outs, New Brunswick workers will be better off than most Americans. There is no nation-wide guarantee that a worker can earn paid sick leave for illness or domestic and sexual abuse, unlike all other developed countries, and 40 percent of the private sector workforce doesn’t have access to such a benefit.
Yet thanks to a mix of legislation and ballot initiatives, four states and 23 cities have passed their own leave laws, covering more than 10 million Americans. That’s a huge change from just a decade ago, when there were no such laws on the books. And the evidence from places that have instituted these rules shows that employers haven’t found them to be costly or difficult to comply with. Meanwhile, the majority of businesses now support them, and they haven’t hurt job growth.
This post has been updated with more information on the details of the ordinance.