Are We On the Path to Paid Sick Leave?

sick employeePaid sick leave seems to be on everyone’s mind lately, from Hillary Clinton and Thomas Perez to the leadership at Chipotle and McDonald’s.

For example, you may remember Secretary of Labor Perez recently embarking on the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, during which he sought to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and business,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

One of Perez’s stops on that roughly month-long jaunt was Oregon, where lawmakers recently passed a measure that would require employers with at least 10 workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. If Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs the bill—which she is expected to do—the Beaver State would join California, Connecticut and Massachusetts as the only states to have enacted paid sick leave requirements.

President Obama has urged Congress to pass federal legislation giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But the consensus remains that such a bill would be unlikely to gain the necessary Congressional support in the near future.

Some companies, of course, aren’t waiting for a federal paid sick leave law to become reality. Microsoft, for example, made headlines in March by requiring many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation to their employees who perform work for Microsoft.

At the time, many scoffed at the notion of other large companies doing the same, but two of the biggest names in the fast-food universe were quick to follow the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant’s lead.

Just days after Microsoft went public with its bold move, for instance, McDonald’s announced it would add paid time off to its roster of benefits, even for part-time workers, at the 10 percent of McDonald’s franchises that are company-owned.

And, effective July 1, Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. will provide paid sick leave to hourly workers—a benefit previously enjoyed exclusively by the restaurant chain’s salaried workers.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination would no doubt like to see more employers go a similar route.

Hillary Clinton has made paid sick leave a centerpiece of her platform, commending cities such as Philadelphia for signing paid sick leave bills into law, and expressing her support for such legislation in public forums.

This week, the New York Times made mention of Clinton’s assertion that no one should “have to choose between keeping a paycheck and caring for a new baby or a sick relative,” in a piece noting the momentum gathering behind paid sick leave in the business sector as well as the political sphere.

“With pay for most workers still growing sluggishly—as it has been for most of the last 15 years—political leaders are searching for policies that can lift middle-class living standards,” according to the Times. “Companies, for their part, are becoming more aggressive in trying to retain workers as the unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent.”

Still, the fact remains that federal legislation seems unlikely to materialize any time soon, as the Times acknowledges.

“With most Republicans in Congress opposed to new leave laws, the biggest changes will probably occur at the state and local level, including in some Republican-led states.”

True enough. But with no federal movement on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if states or individual companies make significant changes in the coming months, or if Microsoft, Chipotle, McDonald’s and the like will remain outliers on paid sick leave.

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