With Newark poised to join Jersey City in requiring local companies in 2014 to provide earned, paid sick days for employees, several legislators and activists say they want the state to follow suit.
The Newark City Council continued work Wednesday on an ordinance set for a January 8 vote that would require companies in the state’s largest city to provide up to five paid sick days a year to workers.
If passed, workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked and would be able to use their sick time for their own or a family member’s illness. The ordinance, which would make Newark the seventh city in the country to mandate paid sick days, would cover most of city’s low-wage workforce, including fast-food workers, homecare employees, childcare workers, and airport support personnel. It could go into effect beginning in May.
The Jersey City ordinance, which passed in September and takes effect January 24,to provide up to five paid sick days per year earned in the same fashion as the Newark proposal. Companies with nine or fewer employees are required to provide up to five unpaid sick days.
A state bill,, introduced by Assembly members Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Camden) and Thomas Giblin (D-Passaic) in May, would provide between five and nine days to employees, though the bill is not expected to be voted on before the end of the current legislative session. Lampitt says a revised bill will be introduced when the new Legislature convenes. Incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) has said on several occasions that he supports a statewide sick-time rule.
Advocates say requiring paid sick time will aid low-income workers who often are left with a choice of working through an illness or foregoing pay with the potential that they will be penalized by their employer with further lost hours or by possibly being terminated. Organizations representing the business community, however, say that mandated sick time would be costly to businesses, especially at a time when other new regulations are taking effect, such as a state minimum wage hike and the insurance provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.
There are 1.2 million New Jersey workers who do not receive sick-time benefits, or about 38 percent of the total workforce, according to the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
A position paper released by the center in October that reviewed polling data collected by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling found that 55 percent of Latino workers lacked paid sick days, compared with 34 percent of whites and 33 percent of blacks. In addition, 44 percent of workers earning less than $25,000 a year and 53 percent of those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 are also without paid sick time.
According to the polling data, many work while sick because they cannot afford an unpaid day off, fear for their jobs, or are concerned that there is too much work to do. More than half of Latino workers, according to the poll, said they could not afford to take time off, and about 40 percent were concerned with getting bad reviews or being fired. More than 40 percent of blacks and Asians reported the same fears.