This year’s flu season has started early and has many people worried about the spread of disease, since about one third of all workers do not get paid sick leave making them often forced to decide between coming to work ill or staying home and getting poorer.
Low-paid workers will often come to work sick and contagious rather than stay home and loose a day’s pay. Supporters of legislation to create mandatory paid sick-leave say that this year’s flu season has made people more aware of why it is worth fighting for sick leave. Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work, an organization that supports paid sick-leave legislation around the world said:
“There’s people who say, ‘OK, I get it — you don’t want your server coughing on your food,'” she said.
Business owners, especially of small businesses, disagree on the issue. They say it is an unfair and an impractically heavy burden for them. Critics of the legislation say the timing is bad, coming so soon after Superstorm Sandy, leaving many businesses vulnerable and in “survival mode.”
“We’re at the point, right now, where we cannot afford additional social initiatives,” said Michael Sinensky, owner of seven bars and restaruants around New York. About 500 of his employees switch shifts if they can’t work, an arrangement that some restaurateurs say benefits workers because paid sick time wouldn’t include tips.
“Right now, where companies’ incentives lie is butting right up against this concern over people coming into the workplace, infecting others and bringing productivity of a whole company down,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of employer consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
At the moment there are only four places in the US with a mandatory paid sick-leave law on the books; San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC and all of Connecticut. Now it may be New York’s turn to pass such a law. Councilwoman Gail Brewer’s law would require as much as five days of paid sick leave each year for businesses without at least five employees.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a probable mayoral candidate, generally supports the legislation, but she is not convinced that it is the smart thing to do now to create such legislation. Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg agree that the time now might not be ripe for such legislation which would be a challenge to New York’s recovering economy.