Employers and their workers have now spent a year with Chicago's paid sick time law and the sky has not fallen.
Despite some employer opposition to the ordinances that went into effect in Chicago and Cook County last July, there has been no widespread flight of retailers, restaurants and other places of business that now must allow all of their workers to earn and take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones. This anniversary also came on the heels of Pride Month, and the broad family definition that is written into the laws warrants its own special celebration, particularly in light of the persistent chipping away of federal protections for LGBTQ+ people under the current administration.
The paid sick-time ordinances were developed with input from advocacy groups like Women Employed and Pride Action Tank and clearly recognize the diversity of Chicago's families by allowing workers to use it to care for themselves, a blood relative, or someone with whom they have the equivalent of a family relationship. That could include foster children, stepparents, domestic partners, or any chosen family member.
A chosen family member is someone who you consider to be family or whose relationship to you is like a family member, but is not related through marriage or blood. The presence of close, chosen families is often the difference between surviving and thriving for LGBTQ+ individuals whose relationships with blood family members may not be stable or exist at all. The Center for American Progress found that, forty-two percent of LGBT individuals take time off from work to care for chosen family members, compared to the thirty-one percent of non-LGBT individuals.
The 1 million Chicagoans who gathered at the Pride Parade this year gave a clear indication of the many LGBTQ people who have chosen Chicago as the place to work and raise their families. This underscores how important it is that the city's paid sick time law acknowledge the needs of this population. This inclusivity also extends to the reasons for leave covered by the law, which include illness, doctor's visits, care for victims of domestic or sexual violence, and public-health emergency situations like school closures.
Paid sick time for all working people is a common-sense policy that consumers, workers and families want and deserve. Despite this, scores of Cook County suburbs are opting out of giving this basic right to those who work in their communities, with one suburb doubling down on that decision just last week. Only 27 percent of low-paid workers have access to paid sick days, which means people employed in industries like retail, hospitality, and food service are still forced to weigh their health against coming into work and serving the public. Workers and consumers alike deserve more than that impossible choice, which is why we continue to advocate for a statewide law to close these gaps.
Visit SickTimeChicago.org to learn which towns have opted in to implementing paid sick time for their workers and find out how you can use the time off you've earned to care for the people you loveincluding the families you've chosen. If you'd like to schedule a know your rights training for your staff or clients, email Pride Action Tank at email@example.com .
Melissa Josephs is the drector of Equal Opportunity Policy, Women Employed. Kim L. Hunt is the executive director of Pride Action Tank.