It's Time For Hawaii To Pass A Paid Sick Leave Law - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Roy Takumi

Roy Takumi represents the 35th district (Pearl City to Manana to Waipio) in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the challenges in society as never before. Our over-reliance on tourism was shown to be a weakness of our economy rather than a strength. Our system to help unemployed workers is woefully inadequate and antiquated. While we may say we are all in the same boat, the reality is quite different. 

There’s no better example of this than the availability of paid sick days for workers.

Erlinda, a single mom from Waipahu, knows this better than most. She is one of the 40 million private-sector American workers, including 170,000 workers in Hawaii, who do not have paid sick days.

Like Erlinda, who works for a family owned restaurant, these are mainly low-wage workers who provide essential services — retail, custodial, grocery, gas stations and food service workers. Indeed, the United States and Japan are the only economically advanced nations that do not guarantee workers paid sick leave for short-term illnesses.

When Erlinda feels a cold coming on, she’s faced with a no-win situation. Does she go to work and risk infecting others? Or does she stay at home and lose a day’s wages? For the average household, lost wages from taking only a half-day off due to illness is equivalent to their monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; three days off is equivalent to their entire monthly grocery budget.

State Capitol wide Saint Damien House of Representatives senate legislature. 28 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Some 170,000 workers in Hawaii — mainly low-wage workers who provide essential services — do not have paid sick days. When they are ill, they must either lose vital wages or risk spreading illness to others. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Without a federal law, it is left up to the states. Thirteen states, including all the West Coast states, have enacted paid sick leave laws but unfortunately Hawaii has yet to do so even though bills have been introduced for decades. The first paid sick leave bill I introduced was in 2001.  This session, three paid sick leave bills were introduced. None received a hearing.

Paid sick leave makes sense for several reasons. The National Partnership for Women and Families reported:

  • Thirty percent of food service workers went to work while sick since they lacked paid sick days and felt they had no choice;
  • Sick food service workers are responsible for almost half of all food establishment-related outbreaks due to food-borne illnesses;
  • Workers who have paid sick days recover more quickly from illness than workers who don’t have paid sick days;
  • Workers who don’t have paid sick days are twice as likely to send their sick child to school;
  • Job turnover is lower and morale is higher for workers with paid sick leave.

Some employers say that workers will just call in sick when the surf is up, or the Super Bowl is on. No doubt some do but most workers who call in sick do so because, well, they’re sick. 

And contrary to popular belief, paid sick days are good for business. In 2015, the Center for Economic and Policy Research released a study that concluded that the paid sick leave law in New York City did not lead to abuse despite claims that the law would be devastating for businesses. In 2014, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that found despite almost universal initial opposition to a paid sick leave policy proposed in San Francisco, 70% of employers supported the law three years after its implementation. 

Additionally, the report said, when employers that previously had not offered paid sick leave did offer it, the morale of their employees increased.

Earned sick days is a good investment for employers, employees and the general public. This was true even before the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control calculated that in 2009, 5 million cases of H1N1 influenza would have been avoided if there was universal paid sick leave.

The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce supports paid sick leave. Back in 2010, its CEO Margot Dorman said, “Healthy businesses need healthy workers, which is precisely what paid sick days accomplish. Paid sick days are an investment in our families, our workforce and our health that we cannot afford to do without.”

Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is moving away from its traditional opposition. In a 2020 interview with Bloomberg Law, the Chamber’s vice-president of employment policy, Marc Freedman, said, “For a long time we just said, ‘No.’ Now we are trying to see if there is a way to say, ‘Yes.’”  

It’s time to put an end to the difficult choice workers must make to either stay home and not get paid or go to work and spread their illnesses to fellow workers and others. It’s time we make a commitment to the most vulnerable among us. It’s time we pass a paid sick leave law for a healthier Hawaii.

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About the Author

Roy Takumi

Roy Takumi represents the 35th district (Pearl City to Manana to Waipio) in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Latest Comments (0)

Thanks, Rep Takumi,This is way overdue!

Randy_Moore · 2 years ago

Sick leave should be a component of a "paid time off (PTO)" program, similar to what is offered by large employers like the Queen’s Healthcare System.  This circumvents abuses.  Major employers should also invest in wellness programs for their employees, since about 60% of chronic diseases are behavior-driven (diet and exercise).  Employees can be influenced by their peers with respect to adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors.

be_data_driven · 2 years ago

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