By Nicole Hallett and Michael Dolce
Due to the federal government’s hostile attitude toward working people, progressive economic policy has been left to the states. That is why it was encouraging to see Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo advocate for a statewide paid sick leave law during his State of the State address. Such a law will provide economic security to our state’s most vulnerable workers and will improve public health for all.
The proposed law is simple and cost-effective. It would require employers with five to 99 employees to give workers five days of paid sick time each year, those with 100 or more workers to provide seven days, and those with fewer than five workers to provide five days of unpaid sick time.
The amount of paid sick time an employer must provide is tied to the number of hours an employee has worked. If New York passes a paid sick leave law, it will join 10 other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, and 30 localities, including New York City and Westchester County, with mandatory paid sick time.
Numerous national studies have shown that paid sick leave increases worker productivity and decreases costs for employers. Paid sick leave reduces worker errors, accidents and injuries on the job while also improving employee retention. These positive economic effects outweigh the cost to employers of providing paid sick leave.
Furthermore, paid sick leave reduces the spread of illnesses like the flu, which has led the American Public Health Association to advocate for paid sick leave as an important public health measure. Not only does paid sick leave enable workers to take time off to care for themselves, but it also allows workers to take time off in order to care for their sick children or parents. Without such a law, low-wage workers are one illness away from losing their job, which can have catastrophic consequences.
A paid sick leave law would help tens of thousands of workers in Western New York. A 2017 study conducted by the UB School of Law and the Partnership for the Public Good found that only 34.3% of low-wage workers in Buffalo receive paid sick leave. Statewide, nearly 88% of restaurant employees do not have paid sick time off from work, leaving those that cook and serve our food sick on the job.
Finally, a New York State paid sick leave law will not impact paid sick leave provisions in established employment contracts, including those collectively bargained. The law sets a minimum threshold all employers must meet but does not impact employees already covered.
We need to encourage our state representatives to get on board with a paid sick leave law.
Nicole Hallett and Michael Dolce are members of the UB School of Law’s Community Justice Clinic.