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Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Paid Sick Days Will Save Money

Employers will save $15 million, workers will save $1 million a

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Want to save $15 million? That’s how much Milwaukee employers will save each year if Milwaukee voters support a paid sick days ordinance.

How about saving $1 million? That’s how much workers will save in health care costs each year if they can use paid sick days when they or a family member are ill.

According to a study conducted by the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), there are very real economic benefits for both employers and employees that would result if the proposed Milwaukee Paid Sick Days referendum is approved by city voters on Nov. 4.

Based on data collected from the federal government and the state Department of Workforce Development, the IWPR found that Milwaukee businesses would benefit if the proposed ordinance is enacted by voters. They’d save money because high rates of employee turnover would be reduced, workers would be more productive and fewer workers would have to rely on public assistance after getting fired for poor attendance.

The study also found that a whopping 47% of Milwaukee’s private-sector workers—122,230 employees—do not have paid sick days.

If the referendum is approved, these workers could earn up to nine paid sick days a year if they work for large companies or up to five paid sick days annually if they work for small businesses.

But the study found that workers typically do not take off that much time each year. In fact, most employees with paid sick days only use about 2.7 days per year, far below the maximum allowed. More than half do not take time off at all.

But these days off are valuable. Workers are more likely to visit a doctor before their illnesses become acute, which reduces costs and recovery time. Homebound employees are less likely to spread illnesses such as the flu around the workplace. (Employees could save almost $1 million of flu-related expenses alone each year.) And they’re more productive when they aren’t showing up for work when they’re clearly too sick to be working.

In a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, argued that the paid sick days requirement would be bad for the bottom line. Sheehy wrote: “A crucial question voters and community leaders need to ask is this: Will these thriving employers be more or less inclined to stay in the city or move to the city if you pass an ordinance mandating a specific sick leave mandate for those businesses in the city of Milwaukee?”

Based on the IWPR report showing that businesses would save $15 million a year, they’d probably be more inclined.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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