A Paid Sick Leave Revival in Westchester County, New York

The Westchester County Board of Legislators is considering a PSL bill that is substantially similar to the bill introduced but not passed last year. The proposed Earned Sick Leave Law has the typical PSL architecture: employees will accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked and may earn and use up to 40 hours in a year for itemized reasons. For employees of employers with at least 5 employees, the earned time is paid.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Labor & Housing, which held an “informational meeting” on February 26. According to the minutes of that meeting, fundamental questions were raised about the bill including: whether the County has the authority to enact it or whether it is preempted by state law; how the bill will be enforced since the County does not have a labor department; and whether the bill’s provisions concerning collective bargaining agreements are enforceable without approval of the unions, presumably those representing County employees.

The County may also want to review the statements in the bill’s preamble about its benefits to employers. The preamble states that “paid sick time is good for a company’s bottom line” because fewer sick employees would come to work, thereby increasing productivity, and that it would reduce turnover.

The preamble of the New York City Earned Sick Time Act included similar statements. A recent study of the first two years of that law reports that the purported benefits to employers from that law have not materialized. The study, “No Big Deal: The Impact of New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law on Employers.” was done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research of The City University of New York

Concerning employee retention, the study found that “[v]irtually no employers reported any change in turnover.”

On productivity, the study observed that more than 94 percent of employers reported that “the paid sick days’ law had no effect on business’ productivity, while two percent of them reported that productivity increased. Only four percent of our respondents reported that productivity decreased.”

On reducing the number of sick employees reporting to work, the study found that “[m]ost employers (92 percent) reported no change in the spread of illness in the workplace, while nearly seven percent reported that the spread of illness decreased. Fully 90 percent of employer respondents reported no change in the number of employees coming to work sick, with equal numbers (five percent) reporting a decrease and an increase.” In other words, those that were asking customers, figuratively, “flu with your fries,” are still doing so.

Politically, it appears the stars are aligned for Westchester to enact a PSL law. The County Executive is a Democrat and the Board of Legislators has a solid Democratic majority. In the 2016 election, Westchester County was deep blue—about 65% of voters cast their ballots for Secretary Hillary R. Clinton, who lives in the County.

But some fundamental issues remain to be addressed, and perhaps the statements about the benefits to employers should be revisited, or deleted.