dad comforting sick kid in bed

Healthy Families, Healthy Nation

This Fourth of July weekend, we gathered together to celebrate our nation’s birthday and the values for which it stands. It is clear from their writings and the way they shaped our founding documents that the Framers and revolutionaries were concerned with the most basic articulation of justice and equality (as much as the prejudices of the time and of their lives would allow). Throughout American history, we’ve expanded and nuanced those rights, recognizing that laws about justice and equality touch even family life and workplaces. So, this early July as we celebrate the United States, we also celebrate state-level laws that are taking effect. Earlier this month, Connecticut’s paid sick days law, as well as laws in California, Massachusetts and in Eugene, Oregon are being implemented.

These enactments highlight a trend of momentum behind paid sick days across the country. Twenty-four states and cities throughout the country currently have paid sick days laws. Further, so far in 2015, there have been six new areas that have mandated a minimum standard of paid sick days: Bloomfield, New Jersey; Tacoma, Washington; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Emeryville, California; Montgomery County, Maryland; and the state of Oregon. Comparisons of the different paid sick days laws can be found here. Some businesses have even jumped on the bandwagon: last month when Chipotle announced that it would offer paid sick days to its workers starting on July 1.

That being said, there is a lot more change that needs to happen. Over 40 million Americans do not currently have access to paid sick days, and we need to pass the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932/S. 497) to ensure that people do not have to make the difficult choice between going to work or caring for themselves and sick loved ones, regardless of where they work. This legislation would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to seven days of job-protected, paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. People working in a business with fewer than 15 employees would be able to earn up to seven job-protected days of unpaid sick leave annually.

Our tradition calls on us to treat our employees well, which here includes giving them paid sick days: we are taught that “one should not afflict a person, created in the image of the Divine … you were commanded to have a respectful manner with them and to pay their wages” (Sefer HaYirah). Our texts warn not to have employees working when “his energy will be sapped and his thinking unclear,” which includes when a worker is sick (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sechirut, 13:9-11). Jewish teachings instruct that there must be a mutually beneficial relationship between employees and employers, which includes giving workers the ability to recover when they are sick.

Workers have fundamental rights to have fair, safe, and healthy workplace environments that allow them to take time off to get healthy, and it is our moral responsibility to support just work places. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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