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Massachusetts Boosts State Paid-Sick-Leave Movement

It's now the third state to require businesses to pay workers when they have to take sick days.

Massachusetts will become the third state to require employers to pay their workers for taking time off while sick. Voters passed a statewide ballot measure that gives one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, with an upward limit of 40 hours for the year. Voters approved the measure 60-40.

The proposed law would require employers with more than 10 full-time employees to pay for sick time. For smaller businesses, workers would have the right to take time off while sick but wouldn’t have to collect payment. The measure would protect workers who take sick time from retaliation by employers.

The measure was so popular that Renée Loth, a columnist for The Boston Globe, speculated that it would have its own coattails, propelling the Democratic candidate for governor, Martha Coakley, to victory. It's unclear whether the ballot measure increased turnout for Coakley, the current state attorney general, but even if it did, the impact wasn't enough: Coakley lost 47-48 in one of the closest gubernatorial contests of the year.

Connecticut was the first state to pass a paid-sick-leave requirement in 2011, followed by California this year. Several cities have paid-sick-day ordinances, such as San Francisco, Seattle and Jersey City, N.J. The latest city to do so is Oakland, Calif., where voters approved a ballot measure that raises the local minimum wage and imposes a paid-sick-days requirement on businesses.

Massachusetts' law will affect a higher percentage of workers and employers than its counterpart in Connecticut because Connecticut's law exempted small businesses, manufacturers, nationally chartered nonprofits, per diem workers and temporary workers. Between 12 percent and 18 percent of workers ended up being covered. In comparison to the recently passed California law, Massachusetts imposes a higher cap on the number of sick days that businesses have to provide (five versus three).

Researchers and policymakers dispute the impacts of paid-sick-leave laws. The Center for Economic and Policy Research conducted a 2013 survey of businesses in Connecticut that highlights some of the tradeoffs with any paid-sick-leave proposal. About 11 percent of businesses said they cut employee hours after the state law passed, and about 16 percent said they increased prices But about 11 percent reported increased worker loyalty, and about 15 percent reported a reduction in the spread of illnesses at work.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that the economic benefits of paid sick laws outweigh the costs. The organization assumes large savings gleaned from reducing employee turnover and smaller savings from stopping the spread of flu.

J.B. Wogan is a Governing staff writer.
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