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

I am consistently surprised by the widespread assumption that employers are obligated to provide paid sick leave.  For those whose employers generously offer paid time off for sick employees, it seems a basic 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 a rock and a hard place when they become ill.  They have 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 most matter) don’t receive a single paid sick day.    

Some states and municipalities have taken action to try to fix this problem.  They have passed local laws mandating that employers provide a paid sick days to every employee.  Indeed, a coalition has formed in Illinois proposing legislation that would do just that.  If you’re interested in getting involved, click here 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 to learn that seven states have passed preemptive laws forbidding legislation mandating paid sick leave.  Those states are Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas and Wisconsin.  For more detail on these laws, check out this article. 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  legislation that has not yet even been proposed.  This trend just seems so contrary to the principles of the democratic process. Regardless of your politics or your position on the issue of sick leave itself!

If you are concerned about similar legislation making its way into Illinois, we urge you to get involved.  Contact your legislators, join the coalition! Make sure that Illinois mandates paid sick leave before the powerful private sector passes a bill foreclosing that possibility.