Our View: Paid sick leave a humane and sensible right for hardest workers

08/28/2014 3:44 PM

08/28/2014 3:45 PM

The United States and California have such strict labor laws when it comes to children, length of workweeks and overtime that of course there must be rules about paid sick leave. It’s a basic worker right, surely?

Well, no. Paid sick leave might be a given for white-collar workers, but it’s a rare perk for many workers in the hospitality, agriculture, construction and personal care industries. We believe that is wrong.

Can anyone honestly disagree with the premise that sick people should not go to work and infect others? Or that public health is best served when workers who interact with the public stay home when they’re under the weather?

Yet nearly 7 million Californians, many of them on the bottom economic rungs, don’t have access to paid sick leave. Assembly Bill 1522 by Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, seeks to fix that. Backed by organized labor, the bill would require every employer in California to provide a minimum of three days of paid sick leave a year without threat to workers’ jobs. It would apply to part-timers and full-timers.

This humane and sensible legislation is expected to come up for a vote Friday, and it ought to pass. Then the governor should sign it so California can show the rest of the country how it ought to treat some of its hardest-working people. That said, we would be wary of any expansion of this benefit in years to come.

Though Hollywood tax credits and plastic bags have been getting the attention as the legislative session winds down, this bill could have much more lasting effects on real people – especially if other states see success here and follow suit.

Connecticut was the first to adopt minimum standards for paid sick leave, though it differs substantially from what is proposed for California. That law, adopted in 2011, provides for one workweek of paid sick leave per year, but applies only to employers of 50 or more workers.

AB 1522 has no worker minimum and will apply to giant retailers such as Wal-Mart, which has a substandard sick-leave policy, and mom-and-pop businesses that have no policy. This is far from a lavish benefit. It’s a minimum in case they get sick or must care for a sick child.

Workers would accrue sick leave after 30 days and collect it at the rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, capped at 24 hours – or three workdays per year. Workers would need to be employed for at least 90 days before taking a sick day. They could carry over the leave for a total of six days, or 48 hours, but employers would be allowed to cap their use at 24 hours per year. Also, there would be no requirement the leave be paid to workers when they leave the job.

Gonzalez narrowed the bill to address some of business’s concerns about accrual and liability. But chambers of commerce and business groups remain opposed. We understand; worker benefits cost money. However, sick workers potentially cost us all.

The people most likely to lack paid sick leave are the people you want taking time off – the woman preparing your lunch or the man serving it to you. Less than 20 percent of the state’s restaurant workers have paid sick leave, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Paid sick leave isn’t a basic worker right. But it should be.

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