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New York City extends paid sick days to more workers

Sally Herships Jun 30, 2014
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Workers of New York, July 30 is the first day you can use your earned sick days under New York City’s new paid sick day law.

How are you feeling – can you make it?

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work,  a network of coalitions in 21 states that work for policies like paid sick days, says come the end of the month, don’t expect to see a sick day bubble where workers all over the city call in with hives.

“No, what we’re going to see is fewer people going to work sick and making co-workers and customers sick,” she says. “Fewer people losing jobs and paychecks.”

On average, Bravo notes, workers use fewer sick days than they earn.

Sherry Leiwant, co-president and cofounder of A Better Balance, a legal advocacy organization based in New York that does advocacy around paid sick days, says more often than not, workers treat sick days like insurance.

“They save them because they know they’re going to maybe need them to take care of their kids, or take care of themselves if they get sick, so don’t want to waste them,” she says.

New York City estimates there are about half a million employees who had no paid sick time before the new law. Leiwant notes the lack of sick leave cuts across sectors, so the list of industries where workers are currently without sick time includes retail, child and health care, leisure, hospitality and dining.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the *New York City Hospitality Alliance, and a personal recipient of sick day leave, says restaurant owners understand that people get sick and they want to take care of their teams, but that the new policy does present challenges for business owners in the dining industry. 

“A lot of business owners believe it’s going to be expensive, it’s also going to be tricky, especially in restaurant industry or nightlife industry if an employee calls in sick, you need to replace them,” he says. “There are some office jobs, where if someone comes in sick, they’ll come in the following day and their work will be there on their desk. But if you’re working in a restaurant and you’re short a line cook, you need to bring in an additional line cook.”

Ellen Bravo notes that paying employees for a handful of sick days a year is much cheaper than spending the thousands of dollars it costs to replace even low wage workers. While it would be more convenient if no one got sick, she says, from a business perspective sick days make sense.

“You certainly don’t want to be the restaurant that gets in the headlines for having a norovirus, as a number of them had, because the worker felt obliged to come in for fear of losing their job, or simply because they couldn’t afford the time.”


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the affiliation of Andrew Rigie, a hospitality executive. He is executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. The article has been corrected.

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