Paid Sick Leave: Myth or Reality?
Unfortunately for all of us, there are no federal laws in the USA that require employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. It has always been a matter of agreement between worker and employer. This results in devastating figures. Nearly one in three private sector workers — do not have access to paid sick days. The situation is improving as pro paid leave voices are becoming louder. Take the recent paid leave campaign victory in Austin, Texas.
Connecticut was the first to enact a corresponding state law in 2011 to require paid sick leave in private sector employment. Eight more states and Washington DC have joined since. The full list for now is: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wasgington DC. In addition, there are 16 cities with local paid sick leave policies. Generally, for covered employees sick leave is calculated based on the workweek hours. However, the accrual is capped in most places and varies from 24 hours a year in Vermont to 72 hours a year in LA.
Everyone gets sick. One to three days a year is better than nothing. But what if you have a flu or something more serious that may require a longer leave? Why should employees’ income be at risk? In most cases this is negotiated with the employer, but let’s be honest – nobody’s willing to pay for somebody calling sick. No work – no pay rule still prevails. No legal support leaves it all to someone’s kind heart and good will, things which are unique in the world of business.
Who likes absenteeism? But is presenteeism a better alternative? It may lead to serious medical conditions and lower productivity levels, eventually it may cause burnouts among top employees, disregarding their motivation. In the end of the day presenteeism is times costlier than absenteeism. The work doesn’t not get done properly for extended periods of time. So, isn’t paid sick leave a better solution?
Ironically, the U.S. is one of five countries in the world without a national policy on paid sick days. The other four include Lesotho, Liberia, Papua-New Guinea and Swaziland. Isn’t paid sick leave one of basic human rights? Let’s see closer what the situation is like.
The U.S. federal government guarantees its employees 13 paid sick days per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, leave benefits are not spread equally throughout the country and vary greatly depending on the area of business. The highest percentage of paid sick leave is with school teachers 91% and the lowest – construction and farming 39% of full time workers. The total number of people employed by the state and local government that receive sick pay is close to 100%, and only a half of people employed by private sector gets that. Thus, around 43 million of the nation’s private workforce, mostly low-wage earners don’t get a paid sick leave at all.
In 2015 President Obama signed Executive Order 13706 establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors, that took effect in 2017, providing up to 7 paid sick days for federal contractors a year. The situation is worsening under President Trump, whose policy is generally aimed at cuts on housing, food stamps and health care. However, in the recent State of the Union Address, Trump mentioned paid family leave as the policy priority. Though, according to the Washington Post, it’s too early to be enthusiastic about it and paid leave will remain a privilege of the rich. Thank God, there is the Family and Medical Leave, that at least allows people to keep their jobs (without pay though) in case of childbirth, illness or a caregiving need within their family. Still, this job-protected leave is not easy to obtain, according to Pew Research Center, 30% of workers with low household incomes were not able to obtain the leave when they needed it.
This has to change, a growing share of working parents and aging population put pressure on more American workers as they have to balance family caregiving responsibilities and work obligations. At the national level, there is strong public support for universal access to paid sick days. According to a recent poll, 88% of voters want employers to provide equal paid sick days to care for themselves and family members.
Hopefully, the situation will start to improve soon. The example in Austin may influence other places nationwide. Austin has become the 42nd jurisdiction and the first in the South to guarantee paid sick days. The new ordinance, that takes effect in October 2018 will allow all working people in Austin to earn up to six or eight paid sick days per year, depending on the size of the business, without losing a paycheck. State and local progress like this is leading the way toward a national standard, while improving the lives of workers, the health of communities and the strength of the economy.
The main benefits for the economy include reduced employee turnover and hiring/training costs for businesses, a decrease in unnecessary healthcare costs – as it would boost preventive medicine, immunizations, timely medical checks and tests; a significant cut in emergency room visits. If workers were offered seven paid sick days a year, the U.S. economy would experience net savings of billions of dollars due to increased productivity and reduced turnover.
It is hard to argue, that paid sick leave is beneficial for employees and their families, employers and their businesses, hence to the overall prosperity of the society. If supported by a nationwide standard it will make America great again.
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