Few workplace policies in the United States recognize the dual demands of work and family. Our lack of a paid sick time standard is a prime example. Last week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released new data revealing that our nation’s failure to give all workers the right to earn paid sick days affects even more people than government reports reflect. According to a new analysis conducted by economists at IWPR, more than 44 million private sector workers in the United States don’t have a single paid sick day they can use to recover from common illnesses. We know that millions more do not have paid sick time they can use to care for a child or family member. No workers should have to choose between their jobs and income, or their health and the health of their families. This new data should be a compelling call to action for all lawmakers as they set priorities for the year.
IWPR’s figure supplements government estimates that 40 million workers lack paid sick days. It adds to that total another 4.2 million workers who are not yet eligible to earn paid sick days because they haven’t been on the job long enough. In all, more than 44 million private sector workers are forced to risk their health and financial security if they get sick. With high unemployment, scarce jobs, and many working families relying on one income instead of two, workers who cannot earn paid sick time risk job loss and financial disaster if they get sick or a child becomes ill.
The fact is: Everyone gets sick, and when workers don’t have paid sick days, they often go to work sick. IWPR’s research underscores how this threatens public health. It shows that people in the very jobs most likely to have regular contact with the public—those in food service and preparation, and personal care and service—are the least likely to earn paid sick days. In fact, according to the new research, only 23 percent of food service workers have access to earned paid sick days. The public health risks that result when workers have no choice but to go to work sick should concern us all.
Fortunately, lawmakers in some cities and states have already recognized the threat associated with a failure to provide paid sick time. Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C, have passed paid sick days laws within the last few years.
More lawmakers are poised to do so. In Connecticut, newly-elected Governor Dan Malloy has been a vocal supporter of paid sick days. With his support, Connecticut may become the first state to ensure workers can earn paid sick days. Massachusetts is also seeing momentum grow around a statewide paid sick days bill, and Governor Deval Patrick has pledged support.
In New York City, a paid sick days bill has strong support despite political roadblocks. And City Council members in Philadelphia have expressed support for legislation that would guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days.
At the federal level, the new Congress is expected to consider the Healthy Families Act. The bill would allow workers at businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year. Workers could use this time to recover from common illnesses, go to medical appointments, address a family member’s health needs, or to deal with domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. The Healthy Families Act would give tens of millions of workers the right to earn the paid sick time they need.
Even though there are a number of innovative legislative proposals, and support for paid sick days is growing, it’s going to take political will from lawmakers to turn momentum into real change for the working people who struggle to protect their physical and financial health without paid sick time. What IWPR’s new research makes clear is that lawmakers at all levels need to make it a priority this year to give all workers the right to earn paid sick days for the benefit of working families and our communities. This will get us one step closer to the fair and adequate workplace policies working families deserve.