What We Have Learned About Paid Sick Days

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Paid sick days ensure that workers do not have to make a choice between taking care of their own health or a loved one and earning a paycheck.

Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass paid sick days in 2011. Being the first, our legislation remains fairly restrictive, only covering 12% of our workforce. Only businesses with more than fifty employees are required to offer paid sick days, and only covers workers included in a narrow list of service occupations. When other states followed our lead, they used it as a starting point, but expanded it to protect workers.

In the twelve years since our legislation was enacted, we have learned a great deal about its impact. First, businesses covered under the legislation here in Connecticut have continued to thrive. The leisure and hospitality sector employed 140,600 workers in January 2012; it accounted for 156,500 workers in December 2023. We have seen similar growth in educational and health services (from 320,500 to 356,500). They both have outperformed other sectors not covered by the current paid sick days legislation.

Second, we have learned quite a bit from other states and how their more generous bills have fared. Massachusetts enacted a law in 2015 with a bill that covers all workers in companies with eleven or more employees, without excluding any sectors. Rhode Island did the same for companies with eighteen or more employees and a much more expansive definition of family than our current law. New Jersey (2018) and New York (2020) followed suit, with bills that cover all workers, regardless of company size. As of today, thirteen states and Washington D.C. have paid sick days legislation on the books.

This means we have quite a bit of data on the impact of paid sick days on workers on the economy, and the evidence is overwhelmingly positive. A recent report from Turk Al-Sabah and Paige Ouimet, at UNC Chapel Hill, concluded that the adoption of local and state mandates led to an increase of 1.5% in employment following the enactment of a paid sick leave policy. The authors found that the combination of reduced turnover, increased labor supply, and household income  pushed the economy forward. The study also found that companies saw an increase in operating profit following the enactment of paid sick days legislation.

In a separate study, Johanna Catherine Maclean, Stefan Pichler, and Nicolas Ziebarth found that paid sick days substantially increased the share of workers with access to this benefit, contradicting those who claimed that private businesses are already taking care of this issue. They found no evidence that employers reduce the provision of health, dental, or disability insurance, and that increased costs to businesses were modest (21 cents per hour for each covered worker), with no discernible impact on the bottom line. Other studies have found statistically significant increases in worker productivity and firm profitability. The performance increases are highest in industries that require more physical presence in the workplace, indicating that keeping workers and customers healthy does in fact help businesses thrive.

Workers also see great benefits from paid sick days legislation. Paid sick days have a significant, measurable impact on worker health, with multiple studies showing an increase in preventive care and reduced contagion of flu-like illnesses in the workplace. With the COVID-19 pandemic so recent in our memory, these assertions are especially relevant.

More than anything else, paid sick days legislation provides workers with a degree of stability and peace of mind that goes beyond profits and numbers. Workers value job security; just knowing that a bout of flu or a sick child will not turn into unpaid bills or losing a job, is hugely important to their peace of mind and their bottom line. Despite growing wages and near-full employment, many low-income workers do not feel safe because there are no laws or regulations protecting them. Much of the unease about the economy, of voters feeling pessimistic about the future, arises from this fact.

The good news is that the Legislature has a bill on the table, right now (Senate Bill 7) that would do just that, expanding paid sick days to the remaining 88% of the workforce. This is not just an incredibly popular piece of legislation among workers, who really appreciate these protections and quite enjoy being healthy, but also is good for the state economy as a whole. We have more than a decade worth of data showing us that businesses not just fare well but thrive once this legislation is adopted. And we even had a global pandemic to remind us how important it is to prevent the spread of disease. It is time for Connecticut to expand our paid sick days legislation.

There is one final, very relevant note about S.B.7, that is worth mentioning, however. The current bill, as written, has a somewhat narrow family definition to establish who can get coverage. As a result, many LGBTQIA+ households that are currently included in other Connecticut laws (like our paid family and medical leave system) would be excluded from paid sick days. This is both unfair from these families, who deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else, and an odd double standard that only creates more paperwork for no apparent reason. If we are updating our paid sick days bill to include more workers, we should do it in a way that includes everyone, as we have done with other programs.