Sick Days and the City

Posted by Doug Turetsky & Bernard O’Brien, October 13, 2010

With Mayor Bloomberg making plain how much he dislikes the City Council bill that would require businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave, it seems like a good moment to look at how much sick leave is used by city workers. In fiscal year 2010 (which ended in June), city workers on average used 8.5 paid sick days—just about the nine days that the Council bill says businesses with 20 or more employees should provide for its workers.

As is often the case, averages can hide some interesting variations. There are substantial differences between the numbers of paid sick days taken by workers at different agencies. Based on data for 34 city agencies compiled by the Mayor’s office and available here, the number of paid sick days used last year by city workers (not including days lost to on-the-job injuries) ranged from 12 by uniformed correction officers to just five by staff members of the department of parks—maybe there is something to the old adage about the health benefits of outdoors work.

Or at least some kinds of outdoors work. Uniformed sanitation workers clocked in a comparatively high number of sick days. Just as working inside a jail may not be the healthiest of occupations, it’s probably no surprise given the nature of their job that sanitation workers used an average of 11.5 sick days last year. What may come as a surprise is that police officers and firefighters used fewer sick days than the citywide average: 6.6 for police and 7.0 for uniformed firefighters.

There are some other seeming anomalies in the use of paid sick days. Maybe it has something to do with being a tax collector, but over at the finance department, workers used an average of nearly 11 paid sick days last year. Perhaps working with musty documents also takes a toll on health. Staffers at the Department of Records used an average of about 10 paid sick days last year.

On the healthier side of the sick leave ledger, Landmarks Preservation Commission staff used a comparatively modest average of 6.2 sick days in 2010. And despite working for an agency whose name and mission is synonymous with stress, staff at the Office of Emergency Management averaged just 6.1 sick days.

The number of paid sick days that city employees are entitled to varies depending upon their civil service title and, in some cases, time on the job. An IBO analyst, for example, earns 10 a year, growing to 12 after five years of city employment.

Citywide, use of paid sick leave has edged downward under Mayor Bloomberg, from 9.2 days on average during his first full year in office to last year’s 8.5.