NJ Bill Would Require Employers To Provide Paid Sick Days

Bill that would require private employers to provide paid days off is meeting opposition.

The Record ( — Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Record

Under newly proposed legislation, New Jersey could join Connecticut and a handful of cities around the country in setting minimum paid sick-day standards for private-sector employers.

The bill, which is almost certain to face strong opposition from business groups, was introduced Monday by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, a Camden County Democrat. It would require employers to provide employees with at least one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

New Jersey does not now require private employers to offer paid sick time, although many employers do. Some private companies provide it only for full-time workers, and others offer it to part-timers as well.

According to a 2011 study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C., a think tank that focuses on women's issues, more than 1.2 million New Jersey workers, or 38 percent of the state's private sector workforce, get no paid sick days.

Those who lack the benefit tend to be low-wage earners employed in restaurants, hotels, child care centers, retail stores and nursing homes, according to one of the bill's main backers, the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition, which includes 80 organizations ranging from New Jersey Legal Services to the Lutheran Office of Government Ministry to labor unions, social services organizations and women's groups.

Lampitt's proposal comes as lawmakers in two cities to which New Jersey is economically bound — New York and Philadelphia — have pursued their own paid sick-day requirements, with different outcomes.

Interest in such laws has been growing since the recession and recent flu outbreaks brought more attention to the plight of low-wage workers in a tough labor market, especially working mothers who have faced particular hardships deciding whether to work or stay home when they or their children are sick.

"If they miss a day's pay they might not be able to buy groceries or pay the mortgage," said Karen White, director for the Center for Women and Work's Working Families Program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. "When a worker goes to work sick they are less productive and they are making other workers sick, so there is a business case for that as well," White said.

So far, Connecticut is the only state that has passed such a law, but sick-day laws are pending in Massachusetts and Vermont. Cities that have passed such laws include San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The Connecticut law, which took effect last year, pertains to workers at certain companies with 50 or more employees. The protected workers get at least one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Manufacturers and non-profit employers are exempted.

The New Jersey proposal would give employees who work 30 hours every week about 8.7 paid sick days a year.

The measure would allow private sector employees to carry over from one year to the next up to 40 hours of unused sick time if they work at a company that employs fewer than 10 people. Employees of larger companies could carry over up to 72 hours. The bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for taking earned sick days.

N.Y.C. bill faces veto

The New York City Council voted last week to require employers with 20 or more workers to provide paid sick days, a measure that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to veto, calling it "short-sighted." The 45-3 vote was well more than the two-thirds majority needed to override, however.

Philadelphia's proposed sick-day legislation, which was opposed by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Philadelphia chapter of the Chamber of Commerce, was passed twice by the city's council. But the council lacked a veto-proof majority and Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, vetoed it twice.

"We will have identical concerns [to the two mayors]," Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday.

"We are still in a tough economy," Egenton said. "Our concern is what will be the impact on small business? It could result in reductions in hours and laying people off or not hiring people they want to hire. We believe there are avenues available for employees to discuss these matters with their employers rather than put in place something that mandates it," he said.

Jon Whiten, deputy director of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank that supports Lampitt's proposal, describes paid sick day standards as "part of a growing national trend" and "the next logical step for New Jersey to take after the family leave legislation."

The New Jersey family leave law that took effect in 2009 gives employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a newborn or a sick child, parent or spouse and receive two-thirds of their pay, up to a maximum of $524 a week. The program is paid for by an employee payroll tax. California is the only other state that requires employers to provide paid family leave, Whiten said.

"We are thrilled that [Lampitt] introduced this piece of legislation," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, a consumer watchdog group that also supports the paid sick day bill.

In the weeks to come, her organization will try to enlist co-sponsors in the state Senate, she said.

"Workers need to be able to take a day off. If a waiter is sick you don't want them sneezing in your linguini," she said.

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