This flu season – October through May – was brutal in Southern Nevada.
Sixty people died from the flu, according to the Southern Nevada Health District – compared to only nine flu-related deaths the previous season. There were a total of 1,345 confirmed cases and 975 hospitalizations. Last season there were 689 cases and 454 hospitalizations.
And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone sick with flu-like illness stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever has subsided to avoid spreading illness, for many people in Nevada that is not an option.
“People have low wage jobs and can’t afford to take time off for their health,” said Erika Washington the executive director of Make it Work Nevada, an advocacy group that advocates for paid sick leave in Nevada. Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a sick leave bill passed in 2017, saying it was too expensive for business.
A 2012 study that estimated the economic cost of seasonal influenza on US counties found that Clark County was among the counties with the highest economic cost due to seasonal influenza-like illness, at $178 million each year—$63 million in direct costs resulting from expenses from hospitalization and antiviral treatment, and another $115 million from indirect costs like loss of productivity due to missing work, school, and death. The estimated annual cost of influenza in Nevada is $866 million.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, an estimated 49 percent of the private sector workforce in Nevada does not have access to paid sick leave.
“The lack of knowledge of the benefit of paid sick leave might be one reason for the low number of workers with access to paid sick leave,” said Abay Asfaw, a senior research fellow at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Expanding this message to employers about the economic benefit of paid sick leave might help employers to make informed economic decisions about providing paid sick leave for their employees.”
Several studies on the economic benefits of paid sick leave have come out as public interest in the topic has grown, including Asfaw’s study on the potential economic benefits to employers.
His study found that paid sick leave could lower employer cost due to the spread of influenza-like illness and loss of productivity. Other economic benefits include the reduction of non-fatal work injuries and job turnover, according to Asfaw.
“Providing paid sick leave will have benefits not only to employees or to employers but also to society at large,” said Asfaw. “It’s a win-win solution for both workers and employers.”
Jenny Foley, a managing partner for HKM an employment law firm, said in her time practicing in Las Vegas she’s had cases where clients have ignored lingering illness due to the fact that they were not able to take time off work only to later find out they had a more serious illness after going to the doctor. In some cases employees have even been fired after the developing illness affects their work.
“Not every cough or sniffle is just a cold. Sometimes those are indicators of a more serious condition” said Foley. “They don’t go to the doctor because a lot of folks live paycheck to paycheck and they can’t afford to take the time off to go to the doctor and get medicine to get better and then those things linger and they turn into more serious infections and they end up in the hospital.”
Many of the lowest-paying jobs in the United States are in the food industry, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nevada is one of two states with the highest concentration of employment in the accommodation and food service sector (the other being Wyoming).
In the greater Las Vegas Metropolitan area, food preparation and serving related jobs account for the largest amount of employment with more than 15 percent, while also accounting for the lowest wage in the area at $13.14 on average.
“Worried about more paperwork”
Ten states and Washington D.C. currently require paid sick leave. Connecticut was the first state to require private sector employers provide earned paid sick leave to their employees, with a law enacted in 2011. California became the second state, Massachusetts was the third.
Currently Nevada doesn’t have any laws that require businesses to provide paid sick leave, although it’s not for lack of trying.
Last year, on a party-line vote, Democrats in the Legislature passed an earned paid sick leave bill, SB 196, but Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it.
”The mandates of SB 196 come with a substantial cost to businesses, particularly small businesses,” Sandoval said in a veto statement. “In addition, the decision to provide employee benefits is one reserved to a business owner who must respond to the demands of a competitive job market. SB 196 presents a substantial economic burden on small business, upsets competition for employees, and could hinder Nevada’s business friendly reputation.”
Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, two of the state’s largest employers who already provide sick leave, spoke in favor of the bill. And the measure was strongly supported by activist groups, including the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, and the Nevada Justice Association, among others.
All parties that stated their opposition to the bill came from organizations representing business in Nevada, including the Las Vegas Metro Chamber Commerce, the Retailers Association of Nevada and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Paul Moradkhan, a paid lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, warned a survey conducted by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce of private employers across a range of industries in Nevada found 72.9 percent of respondents were concerned that mandatory paid sick leave would increase their overall cost and adversely affect the way they operate their businesses.
Tray Abney, lobbyist for The Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce told lawmakers his members were “worried about more paperwork” and “more fines” for their businesses if found in noncompliance.
Other worries by business owners included how they would modify their existing timekeeping systems to provide adequate tracking of sick leave and lack of flexibility.
“I don’t know of a single business owner that doesn’t want to offer paid leave, vacation leave, and sick time,” said the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Randi Thompson.
She argued that mandating paid sick leave does not make it affordable.
“These are perks. I do not think it is in the purview of our Legislature to mandate perks for a business,” Thompson said in testimony.
Beside fears of the possible economic burden paid sick leave might cost small businesses, opponents of the bill did not provide any studies or figures quantifying the negative impact on business of establishing paid sick leave.
Neither the Las Vegas Metro Chamber Commerce nor the Retailers Association of Nevada could provide the name of a small business in their membership that provides paid sick leave to its employees to the Current.
“It doesn’t even hit the radar screen”
A year and a half after Connecticut was the first state to require employers to offer paid sick leave, The Center for Economic Policy Research studied the effects
Virtually none reported reducing wages, nearly 90 percent did not reduce hours, and about 85 percent did not raise prices.
When examining increases in cost for businesses, about 47 percent of establishments said there was no change in costs, 19 percent said costs increased less than 2 percent, and 11 percent said there was a cost increase but did not know how much their costs had increased suggesting that the cost increase may have been negligible.
In the survey, one manager, who had actively lobbied against paid sick leave, said that he now feels his fears of cost increases were unwarranted: “It doesn’t even hit the radar screen,” he said.
Democrats are expected to introduce earned paid sick leave again when the Legislature meets early next year.
During a form hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada in May, Democratic candidate for governor Steve Sisolak supported paid sick leave.
“I do support paid leave and I think it’s a situation as a parent I fully understand,” said Sisolak. “You can’t put a parent in a situation where you have to choose between a sick child home alone, or home with a babysitter, or going in and earning your paycheck.”
The campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt did not respond to a request for comment.