Paid Sick Days Work

AspirinOver 43 million American workers are unable to take even a single day of paid leave when they are sick or need to take care of ill family members. This number is being slowly chipped away at as cities and states pass paid sick leave legislation. On September 12, Seattle became the fourth city to pass a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance, granting Seattle workers the right to take paid time off without punishment or retaliation when they or a family member are ill or need to attend a medical appointment. Paid sick leave legislation is supported by over two thirds of registered voters, and new research on San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance reveals that an overwhelming majority of workers and employers are satisfied with it.

San Francisco – A Case Study

Data from San Francisco point to the overall benefits of mandated paid sick leave. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a comprehensive study of the effects of San Francisco’s current Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO) on both employees and employers. The study analyzed the responses of 1,194 employees and 727 businesses to survey questions regarding their experiences under the new PSLO. Passed in 2006, the ordinance allows workers to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours of paid work, up to nine days per year. Up to nine days of unused leave can carry over to the next year. Workers can request paid leave for either personal health reasons or to care for family members.

Over half of the employees interviewed reported “experiencing benefits” from the PSLO, even though two-thirds of employees worked somewhere that granted some type of paid sick leave before the passage of the ordinance. Employees also reported that their employers were more supportive of them taking paid sick leave and that they were better able to care for themselves and their families. Significantly, most employees took far fewer paid sick days than they were legally allowed, suggesting that employees view paid sick leave as more of an insurance policy than guaranteed time off. They also saved time off for when it was most needed, for example, workers with families were more likely to take days off to care for sick children.

Not only did employees benefit from the PSLO, but employers also reported no detriment. Two-thirds of the employers interviewed said they were satisfied with the ordinance, and almost all said they had noticed no productivity decreases. Although few employers noted any immediate benefits from the PLSO, research has shown that there might be long-term benefits for employers—workers with access to paid sick leave are more likely to report higher satisfaction with their jobs than workers without it. Higher satisfaction can lead to increased productivity and less turnover, which can save employers money. And early data indicates that after passage of the PSLO, San Francisco’s percentage growth in employment stayed strong and even exceeded the surrounding counties’.

Paid Sick Leave in the States

Although many employers do currently grant paid sick leave, many still do not. Of those employers who do, most do not allow time off to take care of family members’ health needs, and some retaliate against workers who use their leave by cutting hours, docking pay, or issuing demerits that can lead to dismissal. Paid sick leave legislation has been introduced in Congress and in almost half of the states in the U.S. But it has become law only in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, and now Seattle. Grassroots campaigns around the country have been gaining traction, with Denver set to vote on an ordinance in November. In Illinois, the Healthy Workplace Act was introduced in the last legislative session, although it failed to pass out of the General Assembly. The bill would benefit the 45 percent of private sector employees in Illinois who currently do not have access to any paid sick leave—over two and a half million people. Workers, both full and part-time, would earn up to seven paid sick days per year, with one hour of leave earned for every 30 hours worked. Paid sick days could be used for personal illness, to care for an ill family member, or for medical appointments, and employers could not punish employees for taking advantage of the paid leave.

Federal Paid Sick Leave legislation

Federal paid sick leave legislation has been gaining support since its first introduction in 2004. The Healthy Families Act was reintroduced in Congress in May in both the U.S. House and Senate, and is currently in committee. The bill would allow paid leave for personal health reasons, to take care of a sick family member, or for domestic and sexual violence survivors to recover or seek assistance. Lawmakers and employers should consider the positive outcomes in San Francisco and guarantee workers the important right to paid time off by supporting efforts to institute paid sick leave in Illinois and nationally.

More information about what’s going on in Congress and in the states is available at Family Values @ Work  and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

To voice your support for the federal Healthy Families Act, contact your Senators and Representative.


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