Paid and Unpaid Sick Leave
Why It’s Important
Millions of workers go to their jobs sick, send a sick child to school, or are unable to take care of an ill family member because they do not have paid sick leave. Low-wage mothers, particularly, struggle with the challenge of not having paid sick leave. For low-income individuals without paid leave, staying home to take care of an ill child or to recover from their own illness means losing a day’s wages, or even jeopardizing their job. Children whose parents do not have paid sick leave are more likely to be sent to school with an illness, raising the likelihood that it will be spread to others. In addition, these children are more likely to receive delayed treatment, resulting in worsened health outcomes. Those working in low-wage jobs dealing with the public, such as in the fast food industry and childcare, often have no paid sick leave. Thus, not allowing these individuals to have paid sick leave is detrimental not only to their own health, but also to the public’s.
Family and Medical Leave Act Gives Unpaid Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. Before the law was enacted, many employees were unable to take time off from work to care for an ailing child or other family member for fear of losing their jobs. Millions of working women were not assured of time off even to give birth.
FMLA guarantees that people who work for companies with more than 50 employees can take up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave a year to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or for certain seriously ill family members, or to recover from their own serious health conditions. For a complete explanation of FMLA, see the FMLA Guide.
Healthy Families Act Reintroduced
In May 2009, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R.2460). The Act would guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days a year to recover form illness or to care for a sick family member. It provides paid sick time for diagnostic or medical appointments. It would also allow workers to use paid sick time to recover from or seek assistance related to an incident of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
Sick days are accrued under a simplified method. It allows workers to earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours (seven days) a year, unless the employer selects a higher limit.
Employers with fewer than 15 workers are exempt.
The Facts on Paid Sick Leave
- The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a report in May 2009 titled Contagion Nation: A comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries. The report shows that the United States is one of only three countries (US, Canada, Japan) that have no national policy requiring employers to provide paid sick days to workers who have to miss five days of work to recover from the flu. In Canada, most provinces require paid sick days.
- The Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a fact sheet in July 2008 (PDF), entitled Some Small and Medium-Size Establishments Join Large Ones in Offering Paid Sick Days. The fact sheet presents the percent of establishments, categorized by size, offering paid sick days, vacation, personal leave, paid family leave, and unpaid family leave. It also shows the percent of establishments offering some kind of paid leave versus those offering no paid leave at all.
Virtually all large establishments (those with 5,000 or more employees) provide paid sick days to some or all of their workers: 99 percent. The same share offers paid vacation leave. Paid time off benefits are less common in smaller firms, but even in the smallest — those with one to nine employees — more than half provide paid sick days (56 percent), and nearly three-quarters have vacation policies (72 percent). Only one-quarter of small establishments have paid personal leave policies (24 percent; this type of leave includes miscellaneous policies as defined by individual establishments).
In contrast, establishments of all sizes have made very minimal efforts to establish paid family leave policies: Just five percent of small establishments and nine percent of the largest establishments have these plans.
- According to Harvard University’s The Project on Global Working Families, 139 nations provide paid leave for short or long term illnesses, and 117 of those nations guarantee their workers a week or more of paid sick days per year.
Paid Sick Leave and the Economy
- According to a Cornell study, absenteeism costs our national economy $180 billion each year in lost productivity. For employers, this costs an average of $255 per employee per year and exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits.
- Reducing an employer’s turnover by providing paid sick days would yield substantial savings. The money lost in replacing an employee through advertising, interviewing, and training is substantial.
- In 2001, the Journal of Managerial Issues published a study that found that offering workers the option of taking time off when a family member is sick affects profits positively.
Federal Employees Leave Act (2009)
In January 2009, a paid leave bill was introduced in both the Senate and the House. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) introduced S.354 and Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York re-introduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (H.R.626), which will guarantee four weeks of paid leave for federal workers for the birth or adoption of a child.
Establishing paid family leave for federal employees would be an important step toward requiring paid leave for all employees.
Paid Leave Could Be a Way of Stimulating the Economy
A column by Dean Baker in Guardian Unlimited, titled Time for Jobs: How Shorter Work Weeks / Work Years Can Be Stimulus, says the U.S. is the only wealthy country that does not require employers to give workers paid time off for parenting or to provide paid sick days. Dr. Baker suggests that the government could give employers an incentive to provide paid time off now by giving tax breaks to cover all or most of the paid time off. He adds, “This is a neat form of stimulus because it directly gives employers an incentive to hire more workers, as can be easily shown.”
For more information on Paid Sick Leave, visit www.paidsickdays.org.