California’s new sick leave guarantee took effect on Wednesday. From now on, every employee in the state – part time or full time, in corporations or mom-and-pop restaurants – will have the right to accrue at least three paid sick days annually.
That such a fundamental benefit took this long to enact here is still astounding, even a year after passage of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s measure. Sick leave has been so common for so long among white-collar workers that most of us take it for granted that everyone can take the day off when they or their children come down with say, a summer cold.
They can’t, of course, as the waitress at your favorite restaurant can tell you. The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee workers paid leave. At the moment, California is one of only four states where paid sick leave is a mandate (Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon are the others). Nationally, one employee in three forfeits their pay if they take a sick day. And most of those are at the bottom of the salary scale – restaurant workers, fast-food workers, farmworkers, gardeners.
Thankfully, attitudes appear to be evolving. Sluggish middle-class wages and falling unemployment rates have employers worrying about worker retention, resurrecting a cause that seemed a nonstarter just a few years ago.
Three of the states with sick leave laws enacted them in the past year. Local ordinances have cropped up nationally, and several major companies have hopped on the bandwagon. Some (Microsoft, McDonald’s, Chipotle) voluntarily added paid leave. Others (Wal-Mart) have reassessed in advance of the momentum on state law.
In California, that spells opportunity. Sick leave is great, but more needs to be done to make workplaces more humane, productive and family-friendly. State lawmakers could start by improving a California benefit that’s the envy of workers elsewhere in the nation – paid family leave.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s Senate Bill 406 would align worker protections with paid family leave so that anyone at a firm with more than 25 employees could take time off to bond with a child or care for a relative and not have to worry about being fired.
And Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez’s Assembly Bill 908 would raise the payout to workers who take paid family leave to make it more of an option to people at the lower end of the pay scale.
Lawmakers should enact both. It’s time we led the country out of the dark ages on these policies.