States Passing Preemptive Bills to Prevent Passage of Paid Sick Leave Laws

I am consistently surprised by the number of people I speak with (friends, family members, and clients alike) who simply assume that employers are obligated to provide employees with paid sick leave.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this.  For those who have been lucky enough to work for one of the many generous employers who provide paid time off for employees who become ill, it seems a basic workplace right – and a reasonable one, at that.  And there is a very common misconception that the Family & Medical Leave Act (which requires employers of a certain size to provide up to 12 weeks of leave to their employees without risk of job loss) requires that employers pay employees while they are out ill.

In reality, though, there are unfortunately no federal laws requiring that employers provide employees with paid sick days.  Further, most states, including Illinois, have failed to take any action to fill that void.  As a result, huge numbers of employees are left between the proverbial rock and a hard place when they become ill – having to choose between coming to work sick or forfeiting a day’s wages and, sometimes, their jobs.  In Illinois alone, the numbers are staggering – 43% of all workers and 80% of low-wage workers (the people for whom a day’s wages make the biggest difference) do not receive a single paid sick day.  

Some states and municipalities have taken action to try to fix this problem by passing local laws mandating that private employers provide a certain amount of paid sick leave to every employee.  Indeed, a coalition has formed in Illinois proposing legislation that would do just that.  If you’re interested in getting involved, visit for more information.  Similar legislation has been proposed across the country and these efforts seem to be quite popular among the voting public.

As a result, I was shocked yesterday to learn that seven states (Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas and Wisconsin) have passed preemptive laws forbidding legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick leave.  For more detail on these laws, see, but the basic gist is that private-sector lobbying groups (most vocally from the restaurant and service industries) are pouring a lot of money into getting state legislatures to pass bills that say private employers cannot be required to provide paid sick leave.

Obviously, as proponents of workers’ rights, we at The Case Law Firm feel strongly that all employees – and not just high wage earners or the lucky few who work for generous employers – should be entitled to take a day off of work to recover from an illness without risking their pay or, more importantly, their job security.  So from a basic principles standpoint, we find these laws infuriating.

However, it also boggles my mind that legislatures are spending so much time and energy passing bills that pre-emptively preclude future legislation that has not yet even been proposed – especially in the face of a populace that seems to be increasingly in support of paid sick leave for all.  Regardless of your politics or your position on sick leave, this trend just seems so contrary to the principles of the democratic process.

If you are concerned about similar legislation making its way into Illinois, we urge you to get involved – contact your legislators, join the coalition – to make sure that Illinois passes legislation mandating paid sick leave before the powerful private sector can pass a bill foreclosing that possibility.