Mandatory paid sick leave: How has it worked in San Francisco?
A survey of employers and employees after the first four years of mandatory paid sick leave gives the policy high marks, saying most employers support the new benefit and that it is rarely misused.
When San Francisco four years ago became the first city in the country to require employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees, it was considered controversial because of the host of unknowns that came alongside: Would employees abuse the privilege? Would it cost too much for businesses? What unintended consequences would show up?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Now, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has released a survey of how the policy has worked for the first four years, during which city employers added 59,000 employees – 17 percent of the city’s work force – to the rolls of those receiving that benefit. The results released Thursday, generally favorable according to analysts, are important for where the idea might go elsewhere in the country and as background in the national debate over health-care policy.
The study of 727 employers and 1,194 employees found that two-thirds of employers support the law. It found that it is rare for employees to misuse paid sick days and that workers tend to save them for emergency use and thus end up using far fewer than the maximum allowed.
“This report is the first empirical research on the effects of these policies, and that’s why it’s really important and could have a very decisive impact on efforts to promote similar policies on the municipal, state, and federal levels,” says Nancy Folbre, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts.
The US is one of the few rich nations that doesn’t mandate any form of paid sick leave, she says, with about 40 percent of workers lacking coverage. For part time, civilian, and low-wage workers, the percentage of those with the benefit is even lower, less then 33 percent, while about 90 percent of public-sector workers are covered.
San Francisco’s ordinance requires employers with employees who work in San Francisco – regardless of where the company has its headquarters – to provide them with one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., have passed similar legislation requiring most employers to require a minimum number of paid sick leave days.
“A lot of small business owners were really freaked out when this first went into effect, especially smaller retail stores and restaurants,” recalls Sam Mogannam, owner of Bi-Rite Market, who employs 110 workers at two locations. He says many restaurants passed the extra costs right on to consumers with $2 to $5 service charges or 2 to 3 percent price increases. “I don’t hear too many griping about it any longer,” he says.