On Tuesday, voters in Elizabeth, New Jersey approved a paid sick days law that guarantees all residents the right to earn leave.
Once it goes into effect, the city’s 25,000 private sector workers will be able to earn an hour of sick time for every 30 they work, capped at five days a year for those at companies with 10 or more employees and at three days at smaller companies, to care for themselves or a sick family member. Anyone who comes into contact with the public as part of their work, though, such as food service and daycare employees, will be able to get five days a year.
The voters’ approval marks the 10th city in New Jersey and the 22nd in the country. Four states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon — have also passed their own leave laws. More than 10 million Americans are now covered by these laws. Yet a decade ago, not a single place required companies to give their employees paid sick leave.
President Obama has also taken up the issue. This summer he announced an executive order that will require all companies that contract with the federal government, which employ about 300,000 people, to provide at least seven paid sick days.
Still, there is no blanket law covering all American workers, unlike in every other developed country, leaving 40 percent of the private sector workforce without access to a paid day off for their own illness, the illness of a loved one, or to deal with other issues such as domestic abuse and sexual assault. Low-income workers, who are least likely to be able to afford an unpaid day off, are also the least likely to get the benefit.
Experiences in the places that do have laws indicate that a national requirement wouldn’t harm businesses and employment, however. Employers in Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington D.C. say they haven’t found the laws in their areas to be costly or difficult to comply with, while the majority in San Francisco and Seattle now support the laws. Meanwhile, job growth has remained strong in Connecticut, San Francisco, and Seattle even with the laws in place.
The laws are also popular with voters. On Election Day last year, all four ballot questions related to paid sick leave passed. Polls consistently show strong support for paid sick leave, even among Republicans.