The landmark 1993 Family and
Medical Leave Act, strongly supported by the Reform Movement, recognized the
familial needs that tug at every worker.
But neither this nor any other federal law requires employers to
continue to pay workers during their family or medical leave. By supporting
paid sick leave - continuing our Movement's deeply-held tradition of meeting
the needs of workers and ensuring a high standard of American workplace
productivity - we hope to ensure that no one must choose between their health
or the health of a family member and their financial security. These concerns
inspired the Women of Reform Judaism to adopt a 2008 resolution on Paid Sick
Leave calling on the government to require employers to provide workers with
paid sick days that could be used either for employees' own illnesses or
illnesses of their family and/or household members.
The United States lags far behind
the rest of the world when it comes to paid sick leave; 163 nations already
guarantee paid sick leave, including Canada, Israel and nearly every country in
the 15 most economically competitive countries, all but the U.S. provide paid
sick leave. Of the
European countries that guarantee paid sick leave, all guarantee more than 11
Lack of paid sick days not only raises
issues of job security and worker justice, but issues of public health as well.
Workers who interact with the public every day- among them food and public
accommodation workers as well as workers in child care centers and nursing
homes-disproportionately lack paid sick days.
Workers without access to paid sick days are 50% more likely to report to work
while sick than their counterparts with paid sick days. Lack of paid sick leave
therefore increases the risk of spreading disease, often to those most
vulnerable: children, the sick and the elderly. A
2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 12% of
food service workers had experienced vomiting and diarrhea on two or more
shifts in the previous year. Paid sick days are likely to provide broader
societal benefits including, "reduced health care spending due to reduced
public contagion and more timely and regular preventive care and treatment;
improved economic security among families who receive pay on sick days and are
less likely to be fired or disciplined for taking sick time; and improved
school outcomes and reduced contagion in schools, when parents can avoid
sending sick children to school or child care."
In addition, paid sick days are of
particular importance to women who are more likely to be impacted by a lack of
paid sick days. They are over-represented in low-wage jobs and are most likely
to act as the family's primary caregiver as well as the one most responsible for
handling doctors' appointments and follow-up care for their children.
The Casey Institute found that in 2008, 74% of working mothers, as compared to 40%
of working fathers, took time off work when a child was sick. The study also found that nearly half of
these parents who took time off did not receive paid sick leave.
Too many women are forced to choose between going to work while a sick child
stays at home or caring for their children and losing a paycheck (and potentially
a job). Additionally, paid sick days would benefit workers who need to take
time off to care for elderly parents. Almost 30% of the U.S. adult population-6
in 10 of whom are employed-reported caring for an older relative in the past
year. As Baby Boomers age, these responsibilities are predicted to increase.
Today, all federal employees have
access to paid sick days and approximately 60% of all private-sector workers
have access to paid sick days.
However, access to paid sick leave remains deeply tied to economic inequality and
80% of low-income workers lack any paid sick days. Overall, 44 million workers do not have any
paid leave to care for their own health and over half of all working parents do
not have paid leave to care for a sick child or family member. In addition, access to paid sick leave is
divided among ethnic lines. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
"Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43%) than are
non-Hispanic workers (68%)." This effect is multiplied in light of the
overrepresentation of Hispanic workers and new immigrants in service jobs like
restaurants and caregiving.
Some members of the business
community have understandable concerns about the financial impact of mandated
paid sick leave. They worry that these requirements will significantly increase
costs, making it more difficult to expand and create jobs.
Small businesses, in particular, may be concerned with increased costs. Lost
flexibility in determining employee benefits packages is another major concern
for small business owners, especially when many already provide some form of
paid leave to employees. Mandated paid sick leave could eliminate the ability
of employers to provide employees with benefits tailor-made to their unique
In response, proponents argue that paid
sick days standards have been proven to help businesses reduce turnover and
improve worker productivity. One study of pending federal legislation
demonstrates that the money saved through instituting mandatory paid sick leave
would far exceed any costs that would be accrued.
The cost of replacing workers, including advertising positions, interviewing,
and training replacements, are often greater than the cost of paid sick time to
retain existing workers. Since 2007, a year after San Francisco implemented a
paid sick days law, job growth has been consistently higher in San Francisco
than in neighboring counties that lack a comparable law. San Francisco also
experienced stronger employment growth than neighboring counties in leisure and
hospitality, accommodation, and food service-the industries critics claimed
would be most affected by a paid sick days law.
Providing paid sick days also saves employers money by decreasing
"presenteeism," the practice of working when ill. Presenteeism leads to a loss in productivity
when sick workers work less efficiently and less effectively and may infect
co-workers. A Center on Law and Social Policy study shows that presenteeism
likely costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually. Further,
some small business owners who already provide paid sick leave welcome the
concept of mandatory paid sick leave as a way to lessen competition with
companies that do not offer such leave.
Crafting policies that provide a
basic standard of leave for workers while remaining sensitive to the potential
impacts on employers is critical to achieving a just solution for all.
Legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick days is now being
considered at the local, state and federal levels. These proposals contain
varying types of mandates on businesses of different sizes in attempts to
recognize and minimize the potential impact on small businesses. They also
include different provisions for part-time and full-time employees to ensure
that sick leave policies are appropriately applied.
Several major localities in the
United States have joined San Francisco in adopting paid sick leave
legislation. In 2011, Seattle passed legislation, as did
the state of Connecticut, becoming the first state to pass a statewide
standard. This year Portland, OR also passed a paid sick leave law. Some twenty
other states and cities around the country are currently considering proposals
as well. San Francisco and Seattle's laws provide between 40-72 hours per year
of paid sick leave, depending on the size of the business.
Canada's sick leave policies are
mandated by the federal government and implemented at the provincial level. The
sick leave is paid for by a national insurance system funded by tax revenues.
Canada pays employees for up to 15 weeks of sick leave at 55% of their salary
We are aware that some existing
paid sick leave legislation provides for exemption of smaller businesses. This
effort to account for business size poses a special complication for
restaurants. Over 60% of all food service businesses employ fewer than 20
workers, which means that they would be exempt. At the same time, the public
health risks posed by sick food service workers remain, no matter the size of
the business. Nonetheless, we recognize that some of these exemptions may be
required as a practical matter to make it possible to enact any paid sick
legislation, especially at the state and local level.
Jewish tradition speaks strongly to
valuing workers' dignity as well as maintaining healthy families. We are taught
in the Torah, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a
fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must
pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is
needy and urgently depends on it; else a cry to the Eternal will be issued
against you and you will incur guilt" (Deut. 24:14-15). Later tradition expands
on this teaching by addressing not only wages but also working conditions. The
rabbis of the Talmud taught in the case in which an employer says to workers,
"I raised your wages in order that you would begin early and stay late," they
may reply, "You raised our wages in order that we would do better work" (Bava
M'tzia 83a). From these ancient principles our ancestors derived an ethical
employment system that mandated fair and sensitive treatment toward laborers.
Under Jewish law, employees also have
obligations to fulfill in respect to their employers including working
faithfully at their highest capacity, keeping themselves satiated and
refraining from working both days and nights (Berakhot 16a). As
Maimonides noted, "Just as the employer is enjoined not to deprive the poor
worker of his hire or withhold it from him when it is due, so is the worker
enjoined not to deprive the employer of the benefit of this work by idling away
his time, a little here and a little there, thus wasting the whole day
deceitfully" (Mishneh Torah, Book 13, Chapter 13:7).
Our tradition also addresses the
moral need to ensure our health: "Since by keeping the body in health and
vigor, one walks in the ways of God-it being impossible during sickness to have
any understanding or knowledge of the Creator-it is a person's duty to avoid
whatever is injurious to the body and cultivate habits conducive to health and
vigor" (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Book of Knowledge, Laws Relating to Moral
and Ethical Conduct, 1). And throughout Jewish history the provision of
health services are seen as essential aspects of a moral society (Mishneh
Torah, Hilchot De'ot IV: 23).
Connecting the ideas of labor and
health together is a Jewish dictum teaching that employers and employees have a
common interest in workers' health and a mutual obligation to secure the
wellness of labor force. We are taught that "one who withholds an
employee's wages is as though he deprived him of his life" (Baba Metzia
112a). Indeed, in the case of paid sick days, a worker's pay is directly tied
to his/her well-being. These values have inspired the URJ to offer paid sick
days to its own employees.
THEREFORE, THE UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM RESOLVES TO:
Support and advocate legislation that requires
employers to provide reasonable paid sick leave to employees to attend to
their own health and the health of their families, taking into account the
risks to public health, number of employees and the number of hours worked by the
Call upon our congregations across North America to
help build coalitions and engage in campaigns to support paid sick days;
Urge our congregations and all arms of the Reform
Movement to examine their employment and contracting practices to
implement the goals of this resolution and set an example for their
the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can't Afford Good Working
Conditions for Everyone," Jody Heymann and Alison Earle.
Good Health in Oregon: The Costs and Benefits of Earned Sick Days," Institute
for Women's Policy Research. http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/valuing-good-health-in-oregon-the-costs-and-benefits-of-earned-sick-days/at_download/file.