DC Auditor: Paid Sick Days Law A Success, But There’s a Need to Expand Protections for DC Workers

Paid Sick Days LogoWashington DC’s local paid sick days law is a success, according to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA).  The report examined the 2008 law’s impact on businesses, workers, and the economy and found that the percentage of businesses that offered paid sick days increased by 18 percent, from half of all businesses in 2007 to 68 percent in 2012.  However, nearly one in three businesses reported that they still do not enable their employees to earn paid sick days, showing the need for stronger enforcement standards to ensure that workers covered under the law are protected. See coverage in the Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, CBS, Salon, and  Think Progress. The long-delayed audit was finally conducted in part due to EJC’s advocacy.

The sick and safe days law has proven easy for businesses to administer, with the Audit concluding that DC’s law “neither discouraged business owners from locating in the District nor encouraged business owners to move their businesses from the District.”  Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville restaurants, found that offering paid sick days was a smart business investment. Shallal explains, “We want to attract the best people. And these people are going to want to work in a place where if they’re sick they’re not required to come to work to pay their rent.”

The DC audit reflects the findings in other cities that have adopted paid sick days laws.  For example, a 2011 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), found that two-thirds of business owners in San Francisco supported the city’s sick days law, implemented in 2007. Another 2011 IWPR study found that employment growth in San Francisco was stronger than in surrounding counties following the passage of the sick leave law. Economists and business owners alike have found that offering paid sick days increases worker productivity, employee retention and morale.

Paid sick days are critical to strengthening economic security for working families. Without access to paid sick time, workers are forced to choose between staying home to care for a sick child and putting food on the table. Many workers without paid sick days are forced to work sick because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages, and because missing work due to illness can cost them their job.  Nationwide, nearly one in four workers have lost a job or been threatened with job loss for taking time to care for a personal or family illness.

Woong Chang, a local bartender, recalls serving drinks to customers while sick with the swine flu. “It was by far the sickest I had ever been in my entire life,” he says. After taking unpaid time off to recover, Chang returned to work, only to discover that he had been fired.  A 2010 survey conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center found that 59 percent of restaurant workers in the District have cooked, prepared or served food while sick, increasing the risk of spreading illness to coworkers and diners.  Eighty percent of restaurant workers, including cooks and other food preparation staff, who are covered by DC’s law, report not being able to earn paid sick days, showing the need for stronger standards to enforce the law.

“This is not only a health problem, this is an economic problem.  If we want to get our economy back on track, we need to make sure that working people earn enough money to cover the basics,” said Ari Weisbard, Deputy Director of the Employment Justice Center, a local nonprofit that provides free legal assistance and advocacy for low-wage workers.  “This audit shows that the law has been successful in that businesses are implementing the policy and more people are able to earn paid sick days, but it also shows that we need to do more to strengthen and expand the law’s protections.”

“The bottom line is that compliance needs to be improved,”  said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.  “It is in nobody’s best interest when workers must work sick. The solution will probably require a mix of better enforcement and a tightening of the law.”

Want to support workers’ right to earn sick and safe leave? Join the Paid Sick Days for All Campaign and sign the petition to tell the DC Council that we need stronger paid sick leave legislation so that employers do not deny their employees of this basic right.