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Suburban Chicago county becomes largest in country to provide paid sick leave

There are now 35 paid sick leave laws across the nation.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

On Wednesday evening, the country got its 35th paid sick leave law when Cook County, Illinois approved an ordinance mandating that workers be given paid time off for illness.

Christina Padilla, who works in food service in Cook County, testified before the law’s passage, “I’m here because many employees all over the county, like me, are forced to decide between staying home to recover from illness and going to work and earning a day’s pay without receiving the proper care that we need, simply because if we don’t go to work we run the risk of getting fired.”

When Cook County’s ordinance goes into effect in July, employers of all sizes in the suburbs of Chicago will have to follow the same rules that were passed in the city over the summer. Employees will be guaranteed up to five paid sick days a year, which can be used not just for their own illnesses or that of their loved ones but also for domestic and sexual violence and school closings.

Cook County is now the largest county in the country with a paid sick leave law. An estimated 441,000 people in the area will be newly able to take paid time off if they or their family members get sick. There are now 30 municipalities and five states across the U.S. with paid sick leave requirements on the books.

Dylan Petrohilos
Dylan Petrohilos

Cook County’s vote also comes on the heels of a final rule released by the federal Department of Labor to implement President Obama’s executive order requiring government contractors to offer employees at least seven days of paid sick leave. That new rule will cover 1.5 million federal contractors, including nearly 600,000 who currently have no access to a paid day off for illness.

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All told, more than 12 million people are covered by paid sick leave laws in the country, a share that is at a record high. Yet there is still no federal requirement to cover everyone as there is in every other developed country. So more than a third of all Americans still don’t have access to the benefit, including about 60 percent of the lowest-compensated workers who can least afford to forfeit a day’s pay.