Earned Sick Leave: A Time for Change


After many stops and starts, New Jersey is poised to finally enact Earned Sick Days legislation thanks to the tireless efforts of Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt. If the law should pass, we would join nine other states, plus the District of Columbia, in protecting workers who need to take time off from jobs due to their own or a loved one’s illness.

When I decided to run for Congress in the 7th Congressional District, it was because I wanted to amplify the voices of women and hard-working families here in New Jersey. During my campaign it became clear, as I spoke with so many people, that no matter where they live or what job they hold, New Jerseyans are united in their desire for economic security and the ability to care for themselves and their loved ones.

Unfortunately, for the 1.2 million New Jersey workers who do not have Earned Sick Days, this dream is often not a reality. Without the ability to take time off from work due to illness, workers lose pay and may be at risk of being fired for simply taking a sick day.

And who is hardest hit by the lack of earned sick leave? Working mothers, of course. Over 400,000 New Jersey moms with children under the age of six work outside the home. Forty-four percent of working mothers are in service-sector jobs, particularly in retail and food service – meaning they are in constant contact with the public. That means the server in your local diner, your aging parents’ home health care aide, or your child’s daycare provider may come to work sick because she or he cannot afford to take time off from work.

As an educator, I witnessed first hand the consequences of parents sending their children to school sick. Ask any school nurse what her busiest time of day is and she will tell you right after drop-off. Parents send their sick children to school or daycare because they cannot afford to lose a day of work, putting other children at risk.

Finally, this could change.

The proposed legislation would allow employees to accrue one hour of job protected, paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours (5 days) a year. But that could change as advocates have been making a strong case for providing more hours to better meet worker needs. Employees would need to work 120 days before they could redeem their earned sick time. While similar legislation has been enacted in several New Jersey municipalities, statewide legislation would make sure all workers are covered and is better for businesses to comply.

For those concerned about the impact on business owners, not to worry. A study by Rutgers Center for Women and Work has shown that earned sick-leave reduces employee turnover, increases productivity and improves the candidate pool. In fact, by some estimates, New Jersey businesses could net $104.3 million in savings!

While my campaign for Congress is over, I am more determined than ever to fight for working families here in New Jersey. This state’s productivity and ability to build a family-friendly economy means that employees – especially working mothers – must be able to earn paid sick days. No one should ever be forced to make the impossible choice between recovering from an illness and having to report to work because failing to do so could put their job, and family, at risk.

Come on New Jersey, we can do this!

Lisa Mandelblatt is a former Democratic Candidate in CD7.

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