An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to a cause that has scored victories but also hit roadblocks in recent years: mandatory paid sick leave for a third of civilian workers – more than 40 million people – who don't have it, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
Critics contend paid sick leave is an impractical and unfair burden for small businesses in a choppy economy.
Paid sick day requirements are often popular in polls, but only four places have them: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut. The specific provisions vary.
Milwaukee voters approved a sick time requirement in 2008, but the state Legislature passed a law blocking it. Philadelphia's mayor vetoed a sick leave measure in 2011; lawmakers have since instituted a sick time requirement for businesses with city contracts. Voters rejected a paid sick day measure in Denver in 2011.
Supporters and opponents are particularly watching New York City, where lawmakers are weighing a sick leave proposal amid a competitive mayoral race.
The idea boasts such supporters as feminist Gloria Steinem and "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon, as well as a majority of City Council members and a coalition of unions, women's groups and public health advocates. But it also faces influential opponents, including business groups, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who has virtually complete control over what matters come to a vote.
Pointing to a flu outbreak that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called a public health emergency, dozens of doctors, nurses, lawmakers and activists – some in surgical masks – rallied Friday on the City Hall steps to call for passage of the measure, which has awaited a City Council vote for nearly three years. Two likely mayoral contenders have also pressed the point.
Employees without sick days are more likely to go to work with a contagious illness, send an ill child to school or day care and use hospital emergency rooms for care, according to a 2010 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that a lack of sick time helped spread 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.