When many New Yorkers come down with a cold, the flu or a more serious illness, they don’t think twice about calling their employer and taking off a day or two, so they can fully recover and return to work healthier and more productive.
For those of us with these benefits, it would be almost unthinkable to be denied this basic right. However, more than a million of our neighbors in New York City are deprived of paid sick time.
Disproportionately, those without paid sick time work in low-wage jobs, so losing a day’s pay can mean a significant financial hit. These New Yorkers are in a range of occupations: waiters, cooks, hotel workers, retail clerks and baristas, daycare providers and home-health aides. Many of them work in large chains like McDonald’s and Target. What they all have in common is that, too often, they face the untenable choice of going to work ill or missing a day’s wage they can’t afford to lose.
While it is difficult to dispute that workers should be able to earn paid sick time off, what’s often left out of the discussion is that paid sick time actually makes our economy stronger, overall. When workers report to work sick, they aren’t particularly productive. In many instances, they risk getting their coworkers sick, compounding the lost productivity. They can even spread the illness to customers.
In New York, we have many businesses that already understand the value of paid sick time and provide it to their employees, voluntarily. Esmeralda Valencia (a member of Make The Road New York) is the owner of Esmeralda’s Restaurant, a small, Ecuadorian restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn. When she recently got sick, she was able to take the time off from work she needed to recover. Fortunately, she allows her employees the same flexibility. Everyone earns paid sick time that they can use to recover from illness, see a doctor, or care for a sick loved one.
It’s hard to argue with her reasoning. No one wants to buy lunch at a place with sick employees. By providing paid sick days, Valencia is keeping her customers and employees healthier. And, like a growing number of small business owners in New York City, she found that paid sick time also makes the business healthier. Providing paid sick days has engendered loyalty and trust in her employees, and has helped retain a dedicated staff. Sure, there’s a cost to providing a few paid sick days — but it’s far smaller than the cost of hiring and training new employees.
Unfortunately, many big firms in New York are not following in the footsteps of neighborhood businesses like Esmeralda’s. It’s time for the City Council to pass a law ensuring all workers can earn paid sick days at work to care for their health. It’s a policy that is compassionate for our city’s low-wage workers, smart for the public health, and also good for the economy.
Thanks to new changes in a bill pending before the Council, we can accomplish this goal, while also providing flexibility for small businesses. In this most recent proposal, businesses with five employees or fewer will be required to offer five days of unpaid sick leave to their employees, a change which will help those most vulnerable deal with the cost. Next, employers who provide vacation or paid leave that is equal to or better than what the law requires will not be required to change anything or give anything additional.
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