In my job, I get to explain the entire narrative of paid sick days to our nation’s lawmakers and their staff. It’s a rather simple task because most people intuitively get it — and often they have an experience to share.
The other day, as I walked into one of the House of Representatives office buildings, I chatted briefly with a Capitol police officer, whom I see whenever I am running in for meetings. After we exchanged hellos, he asked me what issue I was working on. I told him that I was working to help establish a basic standard of paid sick days so that working people aren’t forced to choose between caring for their health or their children’s health, and losing a paycheck or even their jobs.
He nodded and advised me to tell Members of Congress about a mother he met a few years earlier. She was there to talk to Members of Congress about her son, who had died from an untreated dental abscess — a death that could have easily been prevented if the boy had access to health care and his mother had time off from work to get him the care he needed.
I’m always so touched when people share their personal stories and insights with me. And, speaking for the hundreds of other advocates who work on this issue, we carry these stories with us. They don’t just inform our messaging — they are the message. The reality is that nearly two in five private-sector workers (39 percent) don’t have a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses.
In other words, for nearly 40 million of us, waking up with a fever and sore throat or needing to throw up will lead to anxiety not only about our health but about our financial security. Should I go to work even though I’m sick because I need a paycheck and cannot afford to lose my job?
Without a basic workplace standard of paid sick days, two in five of us are face a terrible choice: do we respect the public’s health by staying home when sick and lose pay and risk our jobs, ordo we go to work sick so we can pay the bills and keep food on the table but risk spreading a contagious illness to others. Swift Congressional action to pass the Healthy Families Act, which allows workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year, would eliminate this forced choice.
This Congress has made progress on the Healthy Families Act. Both the House and the Senate have held numerous hearings on the issue, and we have more cosponsors on the bill than ever.
But we’re not there yet. Working people want to be responsible employees and family members. They want to be conscientious community members. The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to be all of the above. The legislation would establish a minimum labor standard that guarantees workers the ability to earn paid, job-protected time off for at least seven days a year to recover from illness or to care for a sick family member. It would ensure that working families don’t risk their financial security to do what is right for their own health and the well-being of their workplaces, schools and communities. And, it would protect the public health by allowing ill people to stay home to recover and avoid spreading illness.
Yet, there is more to be done. As we approach another flu season, as our nation’s children go back to school and as our caregiving responsibilities for older relatives expand, one thing is certain: working people need the economic security and job stability provided by a basic workplace standard of paid sick days, especially as millions continue their paycheck-to-paycheck struggles in this fractured economy.
There isn’t much time left before Congress adjourns. We need to make sure that Members hear more stories and insights on the need for paid sick days. More than 150 women’s, workers’ and health organizations are working together to support the Healthy Families Act. We need your help too.