Scientific America: Sick Days for Workers Keep Businesses Healthier

An excellent article from the Board of Editors of Scientific America on the overall benefits to businesses that result from liberal sick day policies:

Pushing employees with the flu or a stomach bug to drag themselves into the office means more absences, not fewer. Workers who are not able to take paid time off to see a doctor are more likely to take six or more sick days a year than are those who can take time off, according to a 2005 Commonwealth Fund report. Overall, workers who are ill while on the job account for anywhere between 18 to 60 percent of workforce productivity losses, according to a 2004 review of estimates in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. cdc data also show that employees without sick leave are more likely to get injured on the job and are less likely to get preventive health screening for cancer.
Experience suggests that paid sick leave does not hurt the bottom line. Sixteen U.S. cities and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and California have passed regulations that typically allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job. A 2013 audit by the city of Washington, D.C., found no evidence that its five-year-old paid sick leave law had prompted businesses to leave the area or discouraged new companies from coming in. On the West coast, San Francisco continued to outperform nearby Bay Area cities in job growth after it implemented a paid sick leave law in 2007. There are expenses: employers have to bear a small increase in base pay for employees who use leave, for instance. But productivity and public health benefits outweigh these costs. (link)

Of special potential concern to those opposing liberal sick leave policies should the implications of the absence of such polices with respect to their restaurant dining experience:

Data published in 2013 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that one in five restaurant workers clocked in even when they were suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, the two main symptoms of norovirus. That formidable group of nausea-inducing viruses causes about half of all foodborne illnesses in the U.S. Bringing those harmful microbes into the workplace puts customers at risk. (link)

Opponents of liberal sick day policies should remember . . . you are what you eat.

Although,  New York City recently passed a progressive sick day law, New York State has yet to do so.


NYC Sued for Inaccessible Sidewalks For Visually and Physically Disabled

Earlier this week Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action suit against New York City regarding the inaccessibility of NYC streets to the disabled:

"In a complaint received by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the group, Disability Rights Advocates, said the class-action suit aimed to “end decades of civil rights violations” in what is ‘arguably, for non-disabled residents, the most pedestrian-friendly large city in the United States.’
Sidewalks and pedestrian routes, the group said, are often inaccessible for blind New Yorkers and people who use wheelchairs, walkers and other travel aids. Among the dangers, the group described curbs without ramps at pedestrian crossings, midblock barriers like raised concrete, and broken surfaces that can imperil wheelchair and cane users.
The focus of the suit is Lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, where problems are pronounced, according to the complaint.” (link)

The lawsuit, which alleges violation of both federal and city law, seeks to certify a class action of “all persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities who have been and are being denied the benefits and advantages of New York City's pedestrian rights-of-way in Lower Manhattan because of Defendants' continuing failure to design, construct, and maintain pedestrian rights-of-way that are accessible to persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities.”

 The complaint seeks only declaratory and injunctive relief – including that the City:

a. Ensure that pedestrian rights-of-way, when viewed in their entirety, are readily accessible and usable by persons with vision and mobility impairments.

b. Undertake prompt remedial measures to eliminate physical barriers to access to pedestrian rights-of-way to make such facilities accessible to Plaintiffs in accordance with federal accessibility standards.

 c. Maintain any existing accessible features of Defendants' pedestrian rights-of-way so that such features provide full usability for persons with vision and mobility impairments.

 d. Ensure that all future new construction and alterations to sidewalks and streets results in the provision of pedestrian rights-of-way that are fully compliant with federal accessibility standards;

 e. Prepare a complete Self-Evaluation and a complete and publicly available Transition Plan regarding the accessibility of existing pedestrian rights-of-way in compliance with Title II of the ADA and Section 504.

 Some interesting observations from the complaint:

a)  more than 600,000 New Yorkers with mobility and vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so critical to community life in New York City because many of the City's sidewalks and pedestrian routes are too dangerous for use by persons with disabilities.”  (emphasis added).
b)    “A recent survey conducted by the Center for Independence of the Disabled ("CIDNY") of 1066 curbs in Lower Manhattan found that more than seventy-five percent of the corners surveyed had barriers presenting safety hazards to persons with mobility and vision impairments, including nearly a quarter of the curbs surveyed having no curb ramps whatsoever.” (emphasis added)

Lastly, the complaint notes that the suit was filed only after the De Blasio administration “refused to provide meaningful access to their sidewalks and pedestrian routes by making improvements to curb ramps and sidewalks over a reasonable period of time” or “participate in structured settlement negotiations to discuss these proposed improvements.”

It will be interesting to see how the professedly liberal De Blasio administration handles this litigation in the long term. 

Notably, shortly before De Blasio took office, and after several years of litigation, the Bloomberg administration finally settled a class action lawsuit concerning the accessibility of NYC taxicabs to the disabled.

The De Blasio administration obviously cannot waive a magic wand and fix every sidewalk curb in a day.  But why not enter into cooperative negotiations to formulate a reasonable plan to address this problem instead of wasting money, time, and resources defending a lawsuit - only to eventually settle anyways years later? Moreover, this suit concerns the disability rights statutes that advance the progressive platform and governance the administration has repeatedly stated it is focused on making a reality in NYC?

There are a lot of potential supporters, and ultimately votes, available from the visually or physically impaired NYC community that would also make these efforts politically worthwhile - that is if these voters can safely get to the voting booth on a NYC street.


NY Times Editorial: A New Fire Commissioner

The New York Times editorial addresses the previously covered pledge by the new NYC Fire Department Commissioner to take on the Department's past history of discriminatory hiring:

The commissioner, Daniel Nigro, struck the right tone at his appointment ceremony last week when he promised to end racial injustice in a department with more than 15,000 employees. “We must no longer wait for a judge’s ruling to tell us what fairness means,” he said. “We must get out front. We must point the way to change.” He also acknowledged that integrating the department — which is about 83 percent white in a majority-minority city — would be “a great challenge.”

. . .

Mr. Nigro clearly knows the department from the ground up. He joined in 1969 and took over the command of rescue operations on Sept. 11, 2001, when the chief of the department was killed at the World Trade Center. His long experience gives him instant credibility with the rank-and-file. It will not be easy to end discrimination in a department that has been a bastion of white male privilege for nearly 150 years. (link)



New NYC Fire Commissioner Promises to Increase Racial Diversity and Avoid Future Discrimination Lawsuits

The new NYC Fire Department commissioner promised Friday to break from the Department's past history of racial exclusion in hiring.

From the NY Times:

"The new commissioner of the New York Fire Department vowed on Friday to put an end to an era of lawsuits and court orders over the department’s persistent lack of diversity and to lead an effort to attract more minorities.

. . .

Flanked by diverse members of the newest class of recruits, Mr. Nigro, 65, described expanding diversity in the department, whose members are still about 87 percent white, as “a great challenge,” but one he would actively pursue.

“We must no longer wait for a judge’s ruling to tell us what fairness means,” he said. “We must get out front. We must point the way to change.” (link)

In March, the De Blasio administration agreed to settle a class action lawsuit alleging race discrimination in hiring by the NYC Fire Department against African-American and Latino applicants for approximately $100 million in relief to the class.

As the district court found, the NYC Fire Department's history of excluding black applicants was profound:

"Black residents make up 25.6% of New York City’s population; when this case was filed in 2007, black firefighters accounted for only 3.4% of the Department’s force. In other words, in a city of over eight million people, and out of a force with 8,998 firefighters, there were only 303 black firefighters. This pattern of underrepresentation has remained essentially unchanged since at least the 1960s." (link)

As the Second Circuit also observed, this discrimination is nothing recent, and the instant case was not the first time the department had been sued for the same reason:

"Even after [a]  1973 determination that [the NYC Fire Department] hiring exam was invalid because of a racially disparate impact the City’s percentage of black entry level firefighters has remained at or below 4 percent for several decades, and the current percentage of 3.4 percent compares woefully 20 to the 16.6 percent achieved by the city’s Police Department and the 21 61.4 percent achieved by the City’s Corrections Department." (link)

Only time will tell if the NYC Fire Department takes real steps to increase racial diversity and avoid future civil rights litigation.


NYC Ranked Best City to Work in When Pregnant

According to Tom Spiggle, a contributor to the Huffington Post, if your are reading this blog post from NYC, and pregnant, you are in the best possible place you can be – at least concerning your legal protections:

"Certainly all states are covered by federal law, which includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but even this law only covers employers that have 15 or more employees -- and courts are split on what rights this act provides. Courts have held that employers don't have to make minor accommodations at work -- like allowing women to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated -- to allow pregnant women to keep working. Fortunately, a lot of states and cities are stepping up to fill the gap.

Here's a list of the top five best cities to live in if you're working and pregnant based on local regulations which protect mothers and fathers against discrimination and unfair working conditions."  (link)

 According to Spiggle, New York City comes in at #1, in no small part because of its passage of a 2013 law increasing protections for pregnant employees and another 2013 law creating additional rights to take sick leave from work, including to care for a sick family member:

1. New York City, NY

In 2013, New York City passed amendments to its Human Rights Law that require employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women to allow them to continue to work through their pregnancy. This protection is broader than both the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. But here's the kicker that gets NYC first-place billing: it requires employers with five or more employees to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to care for themselves or certain family members.

So, if you are pregnant and your doctor tells you to avoid lifting heavy objects, if you live in NYC, your employer will have to accommodate that restriction. If you've also got a toddler at home who comes down with the flu and can't go to daycare, you can also get some paid leave to stay home for a few days. If you lived in a state like Virginia, your employer could fire you for refusing to come to work under those same circumstances. (link)

The De Blasio administration further expanded protections covering sick leave earlier this year:

"In January—17 days after taking office—the Mayor put forward paid sick leave legislation that expanded this right to more New Yorkers – including 200,000 of whom do not currently have any paid sick days. The law will take effect on April 1 and apply to all workers at businesses with five or more employees, encompassing those excluded under the previous legislation that applied to businesses with 15 or more workers."  (link)

The newest bill further improves on the 2013 sick leave legislation by:

  • Eliminating the phase-in, which would have delayed coverage to workers at businesses between 15 and 20 workers. This means 140,000 people who would have waited until mid-2015 under the existing bill will have coverage this April. Eighty-five thousand of those workers do not currently have a single paid sick day.
  • Removing exemptions for the manufacturing sector, extending paid sick leave coverage to 76,000 workers, half of whom don’t currently have any paid sick days.
  • Adding grandparents, grandchildren and siblings to the definition of family members workers can legally care for using paid sick time.
  • Eliminating the economic trigger that could have delayed implementation of paid sick leave based on certain economic benchmarks. (link)

As if you needed another reason to live in NYC?

Hat tip to San Francisco and Newark for second and third place

Even bigger hat tip to Better Balance and the many other advocacy organizations that helped get these important bills passed.

For more information about the most recent NYC sick leave law see Better Balance's summary and FAQ

Spiggle also has a forthcoming book titled “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired! Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.