Why New York City should set a new national standard by passing paid personal time for its workers
As summer begins, vacation is on the mind for many Americans. Yet, the U.S. is the only economically advanced country in the world that does not grant its workers the right to paid time off for personal use, like vacations or important life events. New York City is aiming to remedy that, with the recent introduction of a paid personal time bill that would enable workers to accrue up to 80 hours per year of paid personal time. We need this bill not only to catch up with other advanced economies, but also because it will make our workforce stronger, healthier, and more productive. This groundbreaking proposal would be a huge step forward for the rights and well-being of working families across the City and set in motion a new national standard.
Through A Better Balance’s free and confidential legal helpline, we hear too often from workers who are forced to miss out on important life events such as graduations, retirements, and other life milestones because they cannot afford to take a day off without pay. Those with children often face school-related conflicts with work, such as parent-teacher conferences, and parents of special needs children can often only get their children evaluated for special-education services during business hours. Paid personal time is also necessary for the myriad of family or personal emergencies that can arise. And the value of taking time off simply to relieve stress or enjoy one’s self absent an emergency should not be understated.
Most economically advanced countries guarantee workers at least two weeks of paid personal time, and many guarantee at least four weeks. In the U.S., employers can voluntarily provide paid time off, but we know that these benefits are distributed unequally. Only 50 percent of low-wage workers have any paid vacation, compared to 90 percent of high wage workers, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Small-business employees are also less likely to have this benefit than employees of medium-size or large establishments, and part-time workers rarely have access to paid vacation. New York City’s paid sick time law offers crucial protections to workers, but does not account for many other personal and family needs that arise, for which workers currently have no protection.
Opponents of paid personal time claim that this bill would create red tape, hurt small businesses, and cause job loss across the City. But these same arguments were made against passing paid sick time, and as drafters of the majority of the nation’s paid sick time laws, we know that none of these fears have come to pass in New York City or in any of the dozens of other jurisdictions, including 12 states, with paid sick time. Granting access to paid personal time will benefit both workers’ health and businesses’ bottom line: Studies have shown that taking personal time off can improve employees’ health, longevity, and productivity. And no business should be exempt from caring for the health and well-being of their own employees. We reject the notion that taking personal time off from work should be considered a luxury, available only to salaried workers in white collar professions, or workers at sufficiently large companies, or those who can afford to take time off unpaid. Paid personal time should be a fundamental workplace right for everyone.
We applaud the Mayor and Public Advocate for recognizing how important paid personal time is for the health and welfare of our City. We urge the City Council to prioritize the best interest of hardworking New Yorkers and their families, and pass the Earned Safe, Sick, and Personal Time Act. New York City has long been a progressive leader when it comes to supporting working families, and granting the right to paid personal time will keep us squarely on that trailblazing path.