As the campaign for paid sick days gains national attention and public support, the business lobby continues to forecast doomsday scenarios should the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act become law. This opposition is not based, however, on any actual evidence emerging from cities and states across the country where paid sick leave standards are already in place. A careful examination of those laws disproves any predictions of financial catastrophe for employers and the Maryland economy if our state's workers have access to paid sick days.
Maryland could join the nearly 20 states and cities across the country that have enacted paid sick leave laws. While opponents of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act argue that it would burden employers struggling in what they perceive as a precarious economy, recent studies suggest that the availability of paid sick days has benefited workers and employers, with no reported negative effects on local markets.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly four out of 10 private sector workers, including 80 percent of low-wage workers, lack access to a single day of paid sick leave. Here in Maryland, more than 700,000 workers are forced to choose between coming to work sick (and possibly infecting co-workers, clients or customers) or being fired or forgoing a paycheck for calling out sick — a perilous choice for those whose low wages already place their families in financial jeopardy.
Economists point to growth in both small and large businesses since 2007 when a paid sick leave ordinance passed in San Francisco, where six out of seven employers report no profit loss from providing paid sick leave. Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, reported that his city's paid sick days law has had "minimal" effects on employers.
Likewise, 18 months after Connecticut began requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave, over three-quarters of employers reported that they supported the law. Though the business lobby fought against the legislation, arguing that it would be a "job killer," data confirm that the law has had only a modest impact on business. Over two-thirds of employers said that they had experienced only a small or nonexistent increase in costs, and only a small minority reported making any operational changes to cover increased costs. Moreover, employers cited positive benefits, such as improved workplace morale and reductions in turnover and illnesses.
In both of these studies, the majority of employees took fewer sick days than they had available, a statistic that aligns with national data. Most workers tend to view this type of earned sick leave as an insurance policy, using the finite number of days only when absolutely necessary to care for themselves or their families.
Opponents argue that these data are flawed because they include employers who were already offering paid sick days before these laws were enacted. However, the fact that a significant number of private employers voluntarily provide this benefit is further evidence that paid sick leave is not financially destructive. Furthermore, the bill would not require Maryland businesses with fewer than 10 employees to provide paid sick days; these small businesses would only be prohibited from firing employees who use their unpaid sick days as provided by the law.
The Maryland General Assembly should engage in the kind of data-driven decision-making used by successful business leaders and recognize the compelling evidence in favor of paid sick days. The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act is an opportunity to raise workplace standards and create shared value, at little cost to employers and with significant benefit to working families and public health.
Elizabeth Kennedy is an associate professor of law and social responsibility at Loyola University Maryland's Sellinger School of Business. Her email is email@example.com.