The Little Secret Corporate Lobbyists Don't Want You to Know: Earned Sick Days Are Good for Business

Here in my home state of New Jersey, as well as in states and cities around the country, corporate lobbyists and right-wing groups like ALEC are fighting hard against a strong and growing movement to ensure that workers have access to paid time off when they get sick or need to care for a sick child.

One of the core arguments these folks employ is simple: Providing earned sick days will be a burden for business, leading to fewer jobs and a worse-off economy. But the reality -- as shown by real-world experience and a growing body of academic literature -- is quite different.

It makes sense: Providing good benefits like earned sick days helps businesses hold onto workers, which reduces joblessness and strengthens the overall economy. With less turnover, businesses save real money on the recruitment, training and lost productivity that comes each time they have to replace a worker.

A workplace with earned sick days is also a healthier and more productive workplace. Workers recover faster from illnesses and are more likely to get preventative care, helping to reduce the employer's health insurance costs.

That's not to say that providing earned sick days has no cost to employers. But the cost is "extremely small relative to the total sales of a firm," according to the Economic Policy Institute. And that cost is often offset by the savings businesses can reap, like the ones mentioned above, by providing earned sick days.

In the real world, cities and states that have enacted earned sick days laws are doing just fine, thank you.

After San Francisco became the first city to extend earned sick days to workers in 2007, the city has seen five years of higher job growth and new business creation (even in retail and food service) than in surrounding counties.

Perhaps that's why, after a few years of actually experiencing an earned sick days policy, two-thirds of San Francisco employers surveyed supported the policy. Even the head of the city's restaurant association, which lobbied hard against earned sick days, had a change of heart after several years of actual experience with the law. "[It's] the best public policy for the least cost," Kevin Westlye said in 2010.

San Francisco's experience has held true in Seattle, which enacted an earned sick days policy a year ago and has seen no negative economic effect, and in Connecticut, which in 2011 enacted the first statewide policy of this kind, has seen job growth, not contraction, in two sectors with large shares of workers who previously lacked earned sick days: Leisure/Hospitality and Education/Health Services.

In New Jersey, more than 1.5 million workers lack earned sick days. In Newark alone, the number is above 38,000. Providing a smart work-life policy like earned sick days should be common sense (witness the fact that America is the only one of 22 "highly competitive" developed nations that does not offer the policy to all), but the chicken-little objections of the business lobby have spooked lawmakers here in New Jersey and elsewhere. As we move forward, let's remember the nonexistent relationship these objections have with reality. The true bottom line: Earned sick days are good for business and workers, they are good for the economy and they are good for public health.

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