Paid Sick Leave NYC: Passing the Law and Spreading the Word

EMPLOYEES IN NYC CAN USE SICK LEAVE STARTING JULY 30. That’s the simple message New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs was spreading on street corners and subway stops this morning in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and four other languages common to the city. “NYC’s new paid sick leave law applies to most employees!” continued the English page of the flyer, explaining the basic outlines of the new city law that guarantees people working in New York City the right to earn a few paid sick days a year.

New York City’s paid sick days law, passed in watered-down form over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto in 2013 and expanded quickly under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, will enable the more than 1 million working New Yorkers who previously had no access to paid sick time to earn up to 40 hours (five days) of sick leave a year to care for themselves or family members.

At least, it will do that if employees know they have the right to sick leave and feel empowered to take it.

When the Center for Law and Social Policy scrutinized the implementation of paid sick days laws in San Francisco, Connecticut, Washington DC and Seattle, they found that employees’ lack of awareness about their new right to paid sick leave can be a major barrier to compliance and enforcement. “Workers absolutely have these rights,” an advocate in the District of Columbia told the Washington Post in 2010. "but if you don't know about it, there's nothing you can do."

That’s why public education and outreach have been a major component of the New York law, which requires employers to pass out a Notice of Employee Rights to all new and continuing workers in English and their primary language (if it is not English) and included public education events, partnerships, and advertisements in English and Spanish on 1,000 subway cars and 1,000 buses, as well as on bus shelters and phone kiosks.

And that’s why I volunteered with the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs this morning to hand out flyers on the law at a busy subway station on the 2/3 line in Harlem.

Many passersby and commuters were keenly interested. “I heard about this!” a woman exclaimed, taking the flyer. “I wondered when it was starting.”

“This is a good law! People need to know about this law,” said the fruit vendor on the corner, taking copies of the flyer for his co-workers.

But then a man asked: “Will this help me get a job? I need a job before I can worry about taking sick days.” And there’s the rub: while studies have consistently shown that paid sick leave guarantees do not harm job growth, neither is the policy designed to generate the new employment New Yorkers (and Americans more broadly) need. Having a few days off a year to provide care when a child gets sick will help countless New York parents hold onto their jobs, but it’s not going to create full employment.

One law, as hard-fought as it was, can’t do everything. But it’s an important step towards a more fair and healthy city—and a law we still need to pass at the federal level. And in addition to the concrete benefits, the right to paid sick days can help to build an expectation of basic fairness and dignity on the job, giving us momentum to fight for further rights.

For more information on the new law, see http://nyc.gov/PaidSickLeave or dial 311.

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