Unlike other industrialized nations, the United States does not have a national paid sick leave policy. According to a 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute, 40% million Americans working in the private sector are employed in jobs that do not provide paid sick time. And, the real cost of having employees go to work when they are sick is enormous. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that the annual flu season, alone, costs companies $10.5 billion in lost productivity and direct medical costs. But, momentum seems to be building in favor of passing legislation that will provide paid sick leave to all employees.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the country to require that all private companies – big and small – offer paid sick days to their employees. At the time, business groups warned that providing paid sick leave would negatively impact local business. As it turns out, these dire predictions were entirely wrong. According to a 2011 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid sick leave has benefitted employees without reducing employer profitability.
While it took a few years for other municipalities to follow San Francisco’s leave, by November 2013, six cities and one state had paid sick leave laws: Connecticut, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York City, Jersey City (New Jersey) and Portland (Oregon). Then, last summer, Senator Tom Harkin and Representation Rosa DeLauro introduced the “Healthy Families Act,” which would allow workers to accrue up to seven days of paid sick leave over the course of the year. While the Act has not yet passed, each month, more states and municipalities seem to be jumping on the band wagon. Earlier this month, the Newark City Council passed a paid sick leave ordinance, and similar legislation is under consideration in California and Washington.
The national discussion regarding paid sick leave is not limited to legislative bodies. Earlier this month, Michael Miller of the Atlantic City Press, published an article regarding the move within New Jersey to provide paid sick leave. And, on Monday, the New York Times published a story by Rachel Swarns which explained that cities that have adopted paid sick leave ordinances have not experienced an exodus of businesses.
But the biggest push towards providing paid sick leave to all Americans came just this week. On Monday, during his State of the Union Address, President Obama said that “[a] mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.” This remark was widely considered to be support for national legislation requiring that private employers provide paid sick leave. Then, two days later, actress Cynthia Nixon joined House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and a coalition of progressive groups in a “telephone town hall” in which they pushed for the passage of new legislation of paid sick leave.
Given that 74% of Americans believe that employers should be required to offer paid sick leave, it is high time that we pass legislation that guarantees all Americans access to paid sick leave.