Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Report Released on Benefits of Paid Sick Leave Bill

A report released today by Human Impact Partners and the San Francisco Department of Health on a paid sick leave bill currently in the state legislature said the bill would improve the health of Californians with no discernible negative economic impact on the state.

The report estimated that 40 percent of the state's workforce, about 5.4 million workers, do not have the right to paid time off of work when they are sick.

AB 2716, the California Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Act of 2008, authored by Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would change that by guaranteeing all workers in the state at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

The bill was approved by the state assembly by a 45-33 vote, and will go before the senate appropriations committee on Monday.

One of the co-authors of the report, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia of the San Francisco Department of Health, said that the benefits of paid sick days far outweighs medical costs due to worsened illnesses or the infection of coworkers or customers of a business.

"It's important for policymakers to see sick days as a sensible economic and public health policy," Bhatia said.

Dr. Jody Heymann, a founding member of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University and of the Project on Global Working Families at Harvard University, said that the bill was "one of the simplest measures that any state could pass."

Heymann said that her studies have shown that paid sick leave has a tremendous impact on families. She said that when parents have sick leave, they are five times more likely to attend to sick children at home, shortening the length of hospitalization by 30 percent.

Her research also showed that the most productive countries in the world are usually the ones that offer paid sick leave. Of the top 10 most productive countries, the U.S. is the only one without some sort of guaranteed paid sick leave for its workers.

"Around the world (countries with paid sick leave) are competing, and if you also look at countries with low unemployment rates, it's the same ones," Heymann said.

The report pointed to restaurants as a business that has a large impact on public health. It said more than half of food-borne illness outbreaks in the country occur in restaurants, yet 70 percent of food service workers do not have paid sick days.

Alicia Hershey works at a restaurant in San Francisco and said that it's nearly impossible for a restaurant worker to find the time or money to seek health coverage.

"People do what they can to get by, and a lot of time that ends up endangering coworkers and customers that come into the restaurant," Hershey said.

Restaurant workers were one of many groups of low-wage workers most affected by a lack of paid sick leave. According to the report, 79 percent of the lowest-paid workers do not have paid sick days.

California would become the first state to have a paid sick leave law if the bill passes through the legislature and is signed by the governor.

San Francisco is the only county in the state to enact such a law after 61 percent of voters approved Proposition F in 2006. The law became effective on February 5, 2007.

Bhatia said that it is too early for a complete assessment of the San Francisco law, but that there had not been a noticeable effect on the opening or closing of businesses since its passage.