NYC Workers Get the Right to Paid Medical and Family Leave

Americans have no right to paid sick leave. If your employer doesn’t choose to provide it as a benefit, you can take unpaid sick leave or you can work sick. “Sick leave” applies both to a worker and to her family, so if it’s your baby who is sick and you need time off to care for him, the same rules apply — no pay for the day, and you risk retaliation by your boss if the company doesn’t like it.

That is going to change for New Yorkers.

Beginning April 1, 2014, everyone who works in New York City for an employer with 20 or more employees will have the right to five paid sick days a year. Starting October 15 the minimum will drop to 15 workers. People who work for even smaller employers will be entitled to unpaid sick leave. Even babysitters and other domestic workers will be covered.

It’s hard to believe that it isn’t a basic human right to stay home or get treatment when you are sick, or when a family member is sick and needs your care. Before President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, you couldn’t even take unpaid sick leave. If you did, your boss was free to fire you. It didn’t even matter whether you were healthy enough to choose to go to work. Appendix burst? It’s your choice — keep working, or go to the hospital and lose your job.

Now most Americans can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid sick time for themselves or to care for a family member. I say most because the Family Medical Leave Act doesn’t apply to employers with fewer than 50 workers.

So you can see what a big step New York’s five paid days are. It may seem paltry at first, but that is five more days of pay than other Americans can get — and Americans who work for smaller employers can’t take any sick time at all, paid or not, without fear of employer retaliation.

New York City’s Council passed the measure 45-3, with a large enough majority to overcome Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. Council Speaker Christine Quinn explained that “sick time can be used for an employee’s physical or mental illness[,] injury or medical care and for the same purposes when caring for a spouse, domestic partner, child or parent.”

That’s funny to those of us who have been interested in the battle for paid sick leave in New York as it raged back and forth for the last four years, because Speaker Quinn opposed the law at every turn. Here she is just a few months ago: ”With the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time.”

The state of the economy isn’t that different than it was in February, but one thing has heated up: mayoral campaign season in the Big Apple. Suddenly Quinn has remembered that she is supposed to be a Democrat.

Quinn wasn’t alone in opposing paid sick leave, she was just playing for the wrong team. Mayor Bloomberg led the chorus of business people howling that this would put them out of business. Remember that we’re talking about just five days of pay per worker per year. Compare that to the two hours every single work day that employees may spend doing personal stuff on the web.

Insomnia, by some estimates, costs an average of 11 days per worker in lost productivity. Employers are already paying for that, and by my math it’s more than twice what New York companies will have to start paying to help their workers stay healthy and care for their families.

And what might cause insomnia? Maybe having a sick child but being too scared of losing your job to stay home and take him to the doctor? By taking away what could be a major source of worry, New York City may be helping its workers sleep and actually saving their employers money by increasing their productivity.

Paid sick leave may be coming soon to a workplace near you. National Public Radio reports that “similar measures have been approved in San Francisco and Seattle, others are pending in Maryland, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington state.”

Americans from across the country need to let the federal government know that we shouldn’t have to fight this out city by city or state by state. We shouldn’t have to fight it out at all, but since we have to, let’s do this thing at the federal level. Sign our petition to Congress to enact paid family and medical leave for everyone working in the U.S.


Related Stories:

The Family Medical Leave Act Turns 20, But It’s Still a Baby

Obama: Here’s Your To-Do List (Part I)

Universal Paid Sick Leave Would Save NYC Millions


Photo credit: iStockphoto


Boods Foo
Walter F.2 years ago

Kay is quite right .Were lucky we live in Australia. We have led the world in good conditions for working people..It is not socialism it is basic humanity observed by both political parties ,conservative and labor.

Sheri D.
Sheri D.3 years ago

good news

janice b.
jan b.3 years ago

OMG it's socialism ...just like what congress gets.

Sharon Davidson
Sharon Davidson3 years ago

family leave is needed by all to care for our familys

Ramesh B.
Past Member 3 years ago

Good News!

Noreen Niamath
Noreen Niamath3 years ago

Great news. Most of us have the right to the leave but not the pay.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

good news

Laura Saxon
.3 years ago

That's good. They should be granted this type of leave to help their families.

Amanda M.
Amanda M.3 years ago

Petition signed with a vengeance!

Our country's horrible attitude towards paid medical and family leave is one of many reasons why I continue to be a stay-at-home mom, even though both kids are in school now. The younger one is in kindergarten, which means I still have to worry about nasty bugs spreading through our house like wildfire. She just missed three days (including today) due to a stomach virus, and if I worked, I'd have had to miss three days' pay to take care of her, and possibly more if our older daughter or I come down with it next (so far, everybody else has escaped the "carnage," and I hope to keep it that way).

These idiot employers need to realize that providing paid sick leave is not just valuable for employee productivity, but the herd immunity as well! How many colds, noroviruses, and other pint-size helpings of nasty are spread throughout the workplace and the community because people are forced to come to work sick? TOO MANY. How many outbreaks could be contained or prevented altogether because of paid sick leave? If not all, then a majority certainly!

Kay Redmon
Kay Redmon3 years ago

I was amazed to read this story, I did think America was above the standards of Third World countries, but after reading this I know different. In Australia, we have always had PAID sick leave for all employees, regardless of the size of the company. We also have PAID compasionate leave, so if it's not you that is sick, but a member of your family & you have to take time off work to care for them, you are entitled to do so. You can also accumulate your sick leave up to a maximum of seven years. A lot of employers will pay you for your sick leave if you didn't take it during the year, you get an extra week's wages for not taking your sick leave. This system has worked well & the only time you need a Dr's certificate to say you were genuinely to ill to work, is if you take sick days before or after a public holiday. This is to stop some who will try to manipulate the system, trying to turn it into long week-ends so they can have a the expense of the employer & work colleagues. WAKE UP US, this is not something that you need fight for, it should be the norm in every work place. People do get SICK & most likely sicker if they know that their job is on the line if they take a day off work