Photo: Jeff Gunn via Flickr
It was recently brought to the world’s attention by Senator Tammy Duckworth that paid parental leave is a bit complicated when you are a U.S. Senator. Technically, Duckworth can’t take maternity leave because she needs to be physically present on the Senate floor or else she “won’t be allowed to sponsor legislation or vote during that time period.” This started a national conversation on legislation being passed to support workers and families, and now Austin has become the first city in Texas to regulate sick leave — passing a law making paid sick leave a mandatory requirement for all non-government employees. They become not only the first city in Texas to pass this kind of law, but also the first city to do so in the Southern U.S.
After many hours of deliberation, the vote finally passed Thursday providing around 200,000 workers with paid sick leave. Around 200 testimonials were heard in City Hall that night, including harrowing accounts of people returning to work immediately after being released from hospital stays for life-threatening illnesses. The fight to get this law passed was led by the Work Strong Austin coalition, which includes worker advocate groups Fight for 15 and the Workers Defense Project, according to The Nation.
For workers who are paid hourly, this is a game changer and it is also a major plus for employees of small businesses with 15 or fewer people. Starting on Oct.1, those workers will now get 48 hours worth of pay. For companies with over 15 employees, workers will get 64 hours worth of sick pay. However, the ordinance does not include businesses with less than five employees.
It will be interesting to see if other cities take a cue from Austin, especially considering the nation is experiencing one of the worst flu seasons on record.
Workers, whether they are paid hourly or not, are often very reluctant to take a sick day which only spreads more germs, gets more people infected and therefore hurts productivity. A recent study found that almost a quarter of UK workers said they would have to be hospitalized before they would call out sick.
Arizona, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont are states currently offering guaranteed paid sick leave while other states offer some protection for sick workers.