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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Paid Sick Leave Draws Closer for City Workers

New York City could soon join San Francisco and Washington in requiring paid sick days for employees — a move that could affect as many as one million workers in the city.

On Thursday, the City Council introduced legislation mandating that large employers give workers the ability to earn least nine paid sick days to workers per year, while small businesses who have fewer than 10 employees would earn five sick days.

The two tiers were created to address concerns voiced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg when he gave a qualified endorsement of the idea.

Workers would gain one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked starting on the 90th day of their employment. Policies to roll over the days from year to year would be up to the individual employer.

Employees could use the time either for their own illness or to take care of a sick relative. Victims of domestic violence would also be allowed to use sick days to deal with moving or obtaining services. (Milwaukee voters approved paid sick leave by referendum last year, but it has faced legal challenges in part because of a domestic violence provision.)

But the New York City bill has one interesting provision prompted by the outbreak of swine flu, also known as H1N1 influenza virus: Workers will also be allowed to draw sick pay to take care of children whose schools have been closed by city officials for public health reasons, even if the children are not themselves sick.

School closings because of swine flu prompted a citywide scramble for child care.

“Many working parents suffered this past spring because their children’s schools were closed even though their children were not sick,” said Donna Dolan, chairwoman of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition.

“It’s something that people really wanted to have in there,” said Sherry Lewant, executive director of A Better Balance, a work-life advocacy organization that is part of a network of groups around the country** are working on the issue.

Paid sick leave legislation has been introduced in 15 states. While no states have passed the legislation yet, this year the State Assembly in Connecticut passed a bill, which then stalled in the State Senate with an 18-18 vote.

In Congress, the Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee seven paid sick days per year for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees, was introduced in May. President Obama supported the bill when he was a senator.

Cities have been at the forefront of paid sick legislation for a variety of reasons. One is that the density of people means contagious diseases are a greater public health concern. Secondly, because most states laws are silent on the issue of paid sick leave, cities can exert jurisdiction on this area of labor law.

“The city can’t raise wages, minimum wages,” said Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party. “This is something the city can do.”

While advocates have been working to push legislation for more than two years, the swine flu outbreak helped give the issue a higher profile.

“We have been warned by the president on down, and mayor many times, to stay home if we’re sick,” said Gale A. Brewer, the city councilwoman from the Upper West Side who introduced the bill, which has around 34 co-sponsors.

The backers of the bill hope that it will come for a hearing in late September or early October.

**Including Make the Road New York