‘Earned Sick Days’ law should help working families during flu season (Sponsored Content: Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy)

Flu season is right around the corner. But there’s some comforting news for New Jersey’s working families. On Oct. 29, a new “Earned Sick Days” law takes effect, requiring most employers to pay for a limited number of sick days based on hours already worked each year. Businesses will benefit with increased morale, more productive workers and less employee turnover.

The Earned Sick Days law is vital for healthy communities and a family-friendly economy. No one should ever have to choose between going to work sick and losing a day’s pay, or worse, their job. For far too long, it’s unfortunately been the case when illness strikes. But that terrible decision is now off the table, with New Jersey becoming the 10th state in the nation with Earned Sick Days.

Now, employers of all sizes must provide up to 40 hours’ Paid Sick Leave per year. Workers accrue one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. They must earn the time before they can take it, and this paid time off can start to be used after 120 days of employment. The law applies to both part-time and full-time employees. However, it does not apply to union workers in the construction industry, per diem health care workers or public employees who already receive sick pay.

Workers can take leave to:

  • Care for their own physical/mental illness or injury;
  • Care for a family member or bring them to treatment or a doctor appointment;
  • Address domestic or sexual violence;
  • Attend a child’s school-related meeting, conference or event;
  • Take care of kids when school or child care is closed due to an epidemic of public health emergency.

At the local level, Earned Sick Days already have a proven track record here in New Jersey. Starting with Jersey City in 2013, 13 municipalities across the state have passed ordinances. A Rutgers study of these early-adopting municipalities showed that implementing Earned Sick Days came at no cost to taxpayers, while businesses recognized improvements in worker productivity, with less turnover.

With Earned Sick Days, business owners no longer have to worry about staff members infecting coworkers or customers. You will have happier, healthier employees with less stress for workers and less turnover for your company.

Earned Sick Days also strengthen the economy as a whole, by helping make sure we have a family-friendly economy and employment community. When working men and women have enough money in their pockets to cover the basics, our entire economy gains and prospers. Losing even a day’s wages — or worse, a job — undermines a family’s ability to contribute. It forces many to rely on public programs to keep their family afloat during tough times. Access to Earned Sick Days promote economic stability and self-sufficiency.

Earned Sick Days also strengthen families, by improving the health of our communities. Without paid sick days, parents are often forced to choose between their family’s financial stability and their children’s health. Parents with Earned Sick Days are less likely to send sick children to school — allowing their kids to get better sooner, while also reducing the risk of spreading illness to classmates. And that helps all of us. Do you want you kid sitting next to a classmate with a stomach bug? Earned Sick Days make it possible for workers to be productive employees, good parents and responsible members of their local community.

Moreover, this new Earned Sick Days law protects public health for all of us. When you’re at the diner, do you expect a side of flu with your fries? Of course not. Yet, 79 percent of food industry workers — who are especially likely to spread illness if they go to work ill — did not have paid sick days, according to a Food Chain Workers Alliance study. Moreover, a recent Centers for Disease Control study found that more than half of all norovirus outbreaks can be traced back to sick food service workers. Everyone’s health is at risk when people are forced to go to work when under the weather with a contagious illness.

As a business owner, don’t be caught flat-footed. If your workers are under the weather, need a day off because your child is sick, or to take a family member to the doctor, they now have that right. Any employer convicted of “knowingly and willfully” violating the law or retaliating against workers who take sick days would face a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 or face 10 days to 90 days in jail for the first offense. Repeat offenders would face fines from $500 to $1,000, or 10 days to 100 days in jail, or both. Violators may face penalties each week an employee accrues time off. The Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner may also levy fines of $250 to $500.

Also, by Nov. 28, employers must post a sign outlining workers’ rights. The poster will be available on the Labor Department website for downloading.

With this new law in effect starting Oct. 29, make sure you’re in compliance. And take comfort in Earned Sick Days. No doubt, you’ll have happier, more productive employees. And we’ll all have a healthier New Jersey.

For more information on these new sick leave rules, please visit www.NJ.gov/Labor.