Country’s Newest Law Guaranteeing Workers Paid Sick Days Passes Unanimously


The city council in Passaic, New Jersey unanimously passed an ordinance requiring paid sick leave on Tuesday night with a seven to zero vote. That makes it the 11th paid sick leave law in the country and the third in New Jersey.

The law will require private sector employers to allow employees to earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work. The number of total days will vary by the type of employer: workers at businesses with 10 or more employees can earn up to five days a year; those with fewer can earn three days a year; and workers who come in direct contact with the public, such as in food service, daycare, or home health care, can earn at least five days a year regardless of company size. Workers will be able to use the leave to care for themselves or a sick child, sibling, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.

The ordinance will go into effect 120 days after enactment, at which point workers can start accruing leave on their first day of employment. Before its passage, an estimated 11,300 of the city’s nearly 25,000 private-sector workers didn’t have access to paid sick days.

Passaic’s vote to pass the bill comes days after California’s legislature passed a similar one statewide, which is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) signature, who supports it. Momentum has been strong for paid sick days laws this year, with Eugene, OR; Newark, NJ; and San Diego, CA also passing ordinances. Eugene is still waiting for a final signature, but the others have been signed into law. Three cities — Jersey City, NJ; New York City; and Portland, OR — passed laws last year.

And it could continue. Activists are pushing laws in five other New Jersey cities. Experience from Jersey City, the first in the state to pass such an ordinance, should be encouraging. Preliminary numbers show its unemployment rate falling from 10 percent in July 2013 to 7.8 percent in June 2014, the lowest rate of any city in the state. Statewide, the rate only dropped 1.7 percent in the same time period. Given that the city’s law went into effect in January, the numbers give little reason to think that it’s been a job killer, as some business groups warn.

While unemployment numbers can be noisy at the city level, other evidence from current paid sick days laws back up the idea that they don’t harm local economies. In Connecticut, which passed the first statewide law, employers say the costs have been negligible to non-existent and three-quarters support the law. A majority of employers in San Francisco similarly support its law, while business growth has increased and jobs haven’t been harmed since it was enacted. In Seattle, job growth has actually been stronger since its law took effect and businesses support it. And in Washington, D.C., business owners haven’t moved or decided against opening up in the city.

Despite this positive evidence, the United States remains the only country out of 22 rich ones that doesn’t have a national requirement that employers offer paid sick leave. That leaves about 41 million people without the ability to take a single paid day if they or their family members fall ill.

And some states have been moving in the opposite direction, passing preemption laws that ban local cities and counties from passing their own paid sick leave requirements. Ten have been passed so far, with seven in 2013 alone. But with Passaic’s vote, the number of paid sick days laws now outnumbers the number of preemption laws.