Portland, OR, joined a small but growing club of progressive cities who are mandating paid sick leave for employees when its city council unanimously passed an Earned Sick Time policy last week. The new law will allow more than 120,000 workers to earn up to five sick days a year, giving employees one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. However, the new law only applies onto to companies with six employees or greater. Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (along with the state of Connecticut), have already adopted similar sick-leave laws, and advocates for worker rights hope they will be emulated in cities across the country.
The Earned Sick Time policy ensure workers won’t be terminated for missing work due to illness, or lose much-needed income when they’re sick. Polls show both Democrats and Republicans support this kind of legislation, and President Obama committed to “redouble our efforts on behalf of fairer workplaces and healthier, more secure families” during the 20th anniversary celebration of the Family Medical Leave Act early this February. The main opponents to such policies are corporate lobbyists who claim they will hurt the restaurant industry and other small businesses.
However, the nationwide adoption of earned sick leave policies would not only boost the economy, due to workers being able to hang on to more of their income, but also benefit public health by slowing the spread of disease (sick workers could stay home rather than bring their germs to the office!). The Centers for Disease Control estimates [pdf] that seven million Americans were infected by the 2009 H1N1 outbreak because their fellow workers came to work sick.