The rights of workers have long been a bedrock social justice concern and a priority of Reform Judaism. The minimum wage, the forty-hour work week, the abolition of child labor, and family and medical leave have enhanced the quality of life for millions over successive generations. Our policy resolutions have reflected this commitment to workers ("Living Wage Campaigns," 1999, "Workers' Rights in the United States," 2005), women ("Economic Justice for Women," 1983) and low-income families (" Confronting and Combating Poverty in the United States," 2003) as well as commitment to healthcare for all ("Reform of the Health Care System," 1993, " Women's Health," 1993).
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 Europe. Of 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 days.
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 situations.
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 level.
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 employee;
- Call upon our congregations across North America to help build coalitions and engage in campaigns to support paid sick days; and
- 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 communities.
 "Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can't Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone," Jody Heymann and Alison Earle.
 "Why Working Families Need Paid Sick Days," National Partnership for Women and Families. http://paidsickdays.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/WorkingFamilies.pdf?docID=122 .
 "Valuing 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.
 "Paid Sick Days: Crucial for Family Well-being," Institute for Women's Policy Research. http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/B254_paidsickdaysFS.pdf.
 "NFIB Talking Points: Paid Sick Leave," National Federation of Independent Businesses. nfib.com/object/IO_33129.html
 "Busting the Myths about Paid Sick Days," National Partnership for Women & Families. go.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/PSD_Busting_Myths_FINAL.pdf?docID=7826 .
 Center on Law and Social Policy. "Presenteeism and Paid Sick Days." clasp.org/publications/presenteeism.pdf. February 28, 2005.
 paidsickdays.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer /NP_PSD_Tracking_Doc.pdf?docID=1922
 "Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Days Policies in 22 Countries," Center for Economic and Policy Research. cepr.net/documents/publications/paid-sick-days-2009-05.pdf.
 "Paid health and family leave: the Canadian experience in the global context," Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20629441.
Pro-Paid Sick Leave
- Paid Sick Leave Laws Generate Concern, but Not Much Pain
- Lack of Paid Sick Leave is Unhealthy for America
Con-Paid Sick Leave