California first with family leave, now debates sick days

From environmental protections to new work-life standards, California is a bellwether state that influences state laws and company policies across the rest of the nation.

Responding to the challenge of shrinking benefits for large numbers of American workers, California could soon become the first state to require employers to give paid sick leave to every worker. (San Francisco and Washington DC already have such laws.)

The Sacramento Bee reviews cost estimates and seeks out opinions from both supporters and opponents, and says the decision comes down to a philosophical question:

Should government require employers to provide a package of health and welfare benefits to their workers, or should the matter be left to each company to decide based on its own needs and resources?

You can bet similar arguments were made back in 1938 during the debate over a 40-hour workweek and a minimum wage. And as it turns out, guaranteeing fair minimum standards for workers was good for both our businesses and our working families. The same is true today.

California’s proposal has passed the Assembly and is pending in the Senate. If it passes there, it would go to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not taken a position on the bill.

Similar legislation in Washington State hasn’t been introduced since 2006, then by Representative Mary Lou Dickerson and Senator Karen Keiser. Provisions of the bills (House/Senate) included:

  • Minimum standard of 10 days or 80 hours of paid sick leave annually
  • Pro-rated for part-time workers
  • Available for worker illness, doctor visits, and family illness
  • Employers meeting or exceeding the standards would not need to change their policies
  • Employers can require medical certification of health conditions

If California’s legislation passes, it would certainly create some momentum for similar proposals in Washington State.

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