More than 44 million private-sector workers in the United States—42 percent of the private-sector workforce—don’t have paid sick days they can use to recover from a common illness like the flu, according to new research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).
The new analysis reveals that more workers lack paid sick days than government reports show because it includes 4.2 million workers who have not been on the job long enough to be eligible for paid sick days.
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF), calls the new data a “jarring reminder that workplace policies in this country are grossly inadequate.”
It should be a compelling call to action for lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels, with unemployment high, jobs scarce and more working families relying on one income instead of two, too many workers forced to sacrifice their health or their financial security when illness strikes or a family emergency occurs.
Occupational breakdowns in the new research reinforce the connection between the failure to allow workers to earn paid sick days and public health problems. According to IWPR, the occupations most likely to have regular contact with the public—food service and preparation, and personal care and service—are among those least likely to provide paid sick days.
Dr. Robert Drago, research director for IWPR, says those workers with close contact to the public, but no paid sick leave, “raises serious public health concerns.”
The fewer the number of workers who are able to stay home when sick, the more likely it is that diseases will spread, increasing health care costs and causing needless economic losses. We saw this during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic when workers without paid sick days were more likely to go to work while infected with H1N1.
San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee have passed laws requiring that employers provide paid sick days to workers. Similar laws are being considered in states and cities around the country. The Healthy Families Act, introduced in Congress every year since 2005—and expected to be reintroduced this year—would mandate employer-provided paid sick days at the national level.
Recent surveys show three-quarters of Americans say paid sick leave should be a “basic workers’ right” and Congress should pass legislation that guarantees workers paid sick leave. More than 160 countries provide paid sick leave, but not the United States. Says Ness:
Lawmakers at all levels should make it a priority to pass laws that give all workers the chance to earn paid sick days.