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Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Sick leave good for workers, and good for overall economy

An effort is under way to ensure that workers in Albuquerque have paid sick leave so they are no longer forced to choose between coming in to work sick and a paycheck. The proposal, the Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance, is expected to be on the ballot this fall.

Approximately 107,000 workers in Albuquerque currently do not have any form of earned sick days. They face numerous difficulties as a result.

For example, Claudia had a full-time fast-food job in college and had to work when she was ill. She couldn’t risk calling in sick because her employer would cut her hours the next week as a penalty. Aside from causing her stress, such practices increase the likelihood of having sick workers in contact with the public.

The Healthy Workforce Ordinance would give workers like Claudia the most basic of sick-time protections. It provides that an employee may use earned paid sick time if she or a family member is ill or injured or otherwise needs medical care.

Workers could also use earned sick time for an absence related to domestic violence, sexual assault or criminal stalking.

Employees would earn sick days at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours worked. If the employer is a large employer — 40 or more employees — it must allow employees to use 56 hours of accrued earned sick days per year. Small employers must allow employees to use 40 hours of accrued earned sick days per year.

It is important to understand that the proposed ordinance allows employers to provide more generous benefits than the minimum earned sick-time requirements outlined above. For example, many employers offer broad paid time off policies that give employees the freedom to use paid time off for illnesses, vacation time, or any other reason, without a separate accounting for the reason an employee took the time off.

Similarly, some employers allow employees to earn more sick time or paid time off than the Healthy Workforce ABQ ordinance requires, or to take more time off per year.

The proposal couldn’t be clearer. It does not affect more generous plans like these because they meet the minimum requirements for earned sick time. Section 13-16-3(D) states, “an employer with a paid leave policy that meets or exceeds the requirements of this Ordinance is not required to provide additional paid sick time or in any way reduce the benefits provided to employees.” Section 13-16-7 provides that the law does not prohibit an employer from “establishing more generous polices.”

Studies show that other cities that have passed ordinances like this one have benefited economically.

For example, after passing their respective earned sick-time ordinances, both Seattle and San Francisco saw positive job growth in the period after their laws took effect, and this job growth was much higher than in the surrounding areas for both cities. In Connecticut, over a quarter of employers reported improved morale, 12.5 percent reported increased employee motivation, 10.6 percent reported increased loyalty, and 14.9 percent reported increased productivity after implementation of the state’s paid sick days law.

Earned sick time for everyone is the right thing to do for our families and our economy. These are workplace protections that most of us take for granted, and it’s time to extend them to everyone who needs them.