Silver Taube: San Jose should require employers to provide more paid sick days
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    One recommendation of the Workers Health, Safety and Rights Committee of San Jose’s Recovery Task Force is that the city should require employers to provide more permanent paid sick days like Oakland, San Francisco and other California cities. San Jose is an outlier in the Bay Area because it provides no more than the three days of paid sick leave required by state law. By contrast, other cities in the Bay Area provide more paid sick days.

    • Berkeley
      • Workers in businesses with 25 or more workers can earn up to 72 hours of paid sick time per year.
      • Workers in businesses with fewer than 25 workers can earn up to 48 hours of paid sick time per year.
    • Emeryville
      • Workers in businesses with more than 55 workers can earn up to 72 hours of paid sick time.
      • Workers in businesses with 55 or fewer workers can earn up to 48 hours of paid sick time.
    • Oakland
      • Workers in businesses with 10 or more workers can earn up to 72 hours of paid sick time.
      • Workers in businesses with fewer than 10 workers can earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time.
    • San Francisco
      • Workers in businesses with 10 or more workers can earn up to 72 hours of paid sick time.
      • Workers in businesses with fewer than 10 workers can earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time.

    In Los Angeles, workers can use up to 48 hours a year. In San Diego, employers may cap the amount of paid sick time a worker earns at 80 hours per year and uses at 40 hours per year. In Santa Monica, workers in businesses with 26 or more workers can earn up to 72 hours per year, and workers in businesses with 25 or fewer workers can earn up to 40 hours per year.

    Last October, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a report entitled “America’s Pandemic Workforce: Persistent Structural Inequities Harm Workers and Threaten Future Crisis Response.” Based on data from 12 Fortune 500 companies, the report documents worse employment outcomes for workers lacking paid sick days. One of the recommendations the subcommittee made based on the report was that workers and employers would benefit from paid sick leave.

    Key findings include workers without access to paid sick days left their jobs at higher rates. At one company in 2020, 28.8% of male hourly workers and 35.5% of female hourly workers without access to paid sick days quit, compared to just 10.2% of male hourly workers and 12.4% of female hourly workers with access to paid sick leave.

    Workers without paid sick days must choose whether to go to work sick or lose pay, a choice that many can’t afford to make. According to a report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank, 7.8 million workers who were infected with the H1N1 influenza virus between September and November 2009 worked while sick, despite official advice to stay home.

    The authors also compared rates of illness among public sector workers, who had access to paid sick leave, with those of workers in the private sector, many of whom lack paid sick time. Public sector workers, or those employed by federal, state and local governments, were more likely to stay home when infected with H1N1, the authors argued. The data suggests only two-thirds of private sector employees took time away from work when infected with H1N1.

    Motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the nature of work, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General published a framework on workplace well-being as an economic and public health priority. It recommends increasing access to paid sick days and highlights the benefits of doing so, from reducing wage loss and employee turnover, preventing worker burnout and improving the mental and physical health of workers and their children.

    Policymakers often exempt small employers from paid sick leave policies, which leaves low-wage workers at small firms unprotected because many live paycheck to paycheck. However, according to a July 2022 article in the Washington Center for Equitable Growth entitled “Reduced Job Turnover in Small U.S. Firms is an Overlooked Benefit of Paid Sick Leave,” small businesses are increasingly supportive of paid leave policies.

    A working paper by Ann Bartel at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business and her co-authors finds  support for paid sick days among small firms with fewer than 100 employees has increased during the pandemic. Their research found nearly 71% of small businesses supported paid sick day policies in fall 2020, compared to just below 62% in fall 2019.

    In a 2020 article, the ACLU argues that paid sick days are a civil rights issue because the pandemic made clear that among those suffering the most were essential workers, who typically get paid the least and are the least likely to receive paid sick days. These mostly Black and Latinx workers, also disproportionately women, already live in a state of economic precariousness. The ACLU points out that paid sick days are nearly universal among higher-paid, professional workers that are more likely to be white. In California these predominantly white workers nearly universally receive in excess of the state required three days of paid sick leave.

    The San Jose City Council should enact an ordinance that requires permanent paid sick days comparable to other Bay Area and California cities because it is a civil rights issue, a public health issue and an effective means of ensuring employee retention.

    San José Spotlight columnist Ruth Silver Taube is supervising attorney of the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, supervising attorney of the Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Legal Advice Line and a member of Santa Clara County’s Fair Workplace Collaborative. Her columns appear every second Thursday of the month. Contact her at [email protected].

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