Study Of Jersey City's Paid Sick Leave Law Stirs Debate

No real hardships reported for employers, but business groups dispute findings

The Record ( — Monday, April 6, 2015

Staff Writer | The Record

A study of the effects of a year-old Jersey City ordinance requiring businesses to offer workers paid sick leave — the first of a string of such local laws in New Jersey — has done little to quell controversy over the measures, which are fiercely opposed by businesses.

The study by Rutgers University's Center for Women and Work, based on a survey of employers and workers in Jersey City, concludes that the ordinance created no real hardships for employers, and says that "in many ways 'business as usual' has continued" in the city.

A coalition of unions and anti-poverty groups says the study released last week shows that the ordinance has helped worked without harming employers. But business groups assert it is too soon to draw such conclusions, and further complain that the creators of the study had a vested interested in its outcome.

The ordinance, which took effect in January 2014, requires local businesses with 10 or more employees to offer five paid sick days a year. Companies with fewer employees have to give them five unpaid sick days.

The survey, which was conducted by Rutgers' Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, found that four out of five employers in Jersey City now offer their workers paid sick leave, and three out of five did not have to make any changes to meet the local law's requirements.

In addition, 92 percent of employers surveyed said there has been no change in their employees' use of sick days, the report found. It added that there was "no evidence of abuse of the law," from workers taking unnecessary days off.

The Center for Women and Work conducts research and runs programs that "promote gender equity" and focus on issues facing working families. Among its projects, the center "works with" the Time to Care Coalition, on "research, outreach, and education on family-friendly workplace practices." The coalition of anti-poverty groups, unions and others has pushed for the passage of paid-sick-leave laws.

Michael Egenton, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the study would have had more credibility if it had been done by an independent group, rather than center, which has its own "tilt" toward helping women, who are major beneficiaries of paid-sick-leave laws. He added that he believes the study was done too soon.

"You need more than a year to assess the full impact," he said.

The Jersey City law was the first of nine municipal ordinances now enacted that require employers to provide employees with paid sick leave, including ordinances in Paterson and Passaic. A proposed statewide paid-sick-leave law is pending in the Legislature.

While supporters say the ordinances give workers a basic right that helps struggling families by giving workers time off not only for their own illnesses but for those of loved ones, business groups say the local laws create a financial and logistical burden for companies, which have to find workers to fill in for those who are sick.

The Time to Care Coalition cited the study's finding that "42 percent of businesses that changed their policies as a result of the law reported increased productivity, reduced employee turnover, or an improved candidate pool."

"This study confirms that earned sick days keep workers, businesses and local economies healthy," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action and spokeswoman for the statewide Time to Care Coalition.

'Comes at a price'

Yet the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a Trenton-based trade group vigorously opposed to the paid-sick-leave laws, said the report's conclusions are largely positive because the center "ignored any possible downside" to the law.

The group's president, Michele Siekerka, said surveys on similar laws around the country show that "paid sick leave comes at a price." For example, she said in a release, a 2011 study of the effects of a paid sick leave law in San Francisco found that 15 percent of affected employers surveyed had cut jobs or reduced hours as a result of the law.

Stefanie Riehle, assistant vice president for the business association, said the organization has heard from Jersey City-based members who say that even though they provided workers with paid sick leave before the law was passed, they are now burdened with additional record-keeping and other requirements. In addition, the law requires companies to let workers carry up to 40 hours of sick time to the following year, which the companies did not previously provide.

Even companies based outside Jersey City have to comply with the law, because it applies to the employer of any worker who works for 80 hours or more in the city in a year, Riehle said. So employers from outside Jersey City that send workers to a job there have to track and document their paid sick time requirements separately from the rest of the workforce, she said.

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