Paid sick days bill answers moral call for economic justice

At the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, we welcome the introduction in Congress earlier this month of the Healthy Families Act and applaud Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-Conn.) commitment to ensuring paid sick leave for American workers.

The Healthy Families Act would set a national paid sick days standard, allowing millions of workers to earn paid sick days. Under this legislation, workers in businesses with 15 or more employees could earn up to seven job protected paid sick days each year. Workers could recover from their own illnesses, access preventative care, or help an ill family member. Workers who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking could use this time to recover or seek assistance. The bill makes all of this possible for workers and allows them to take this much needed time without fear of losing their jobs and vital incomes.

Our Jewish tradition tells us that “one who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life” (Baba Metzia 112a). Forcing workers to choose between taking care of their health or maintaining a job unfairly denies them the opportunity to earn their own wages. No one should have to make the wrenching decision to choose between taking care of themselves or their family and protecting their job and livelihood. For too long, the United States has lagged behind the rest of the world when it comes to paid sick leave. Nearly every country in Europe ensures such leave, and in U.S. communities like San Francisco that have implemented paid sick days, the results for workers and employers have been positive. Paid sick days allow workers to be healthier, make our workplaces more productive, and strengthen families. They are especially important to women who are overrepresented in low-wage jobs yet are also most likely to act as the family’s primary caregiver.

Jewish tradition teaches us that employers and employees have a common interest in workers’ health and a mutual obligation to secure the wellness of the labor force. No one wants or plans on illness, but the Healthy Families Act will help ensure that employees and employers are protected when those unexpected events occur.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.