a-sick.jpgIt’s got to make you wonder. Why is the United States one of the only industrialized nations without mandated paid sick time for workers?

We’re in good company I suppose. Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland don’t have it either.

Only about half of all U.S workers in the private sector even get paid sick time, and the numbers are declining. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only 57 percent of private employers offer workers paid sick time, down from 59 percent in 2004.

The reasoning you often hear for not mandating such a benefit is it will cost our businesses and our nation as a whole too much money, and some say it wouldn’t really help workers that much.

But if it were the law of the land who would benefit?

Yesterday Congress’ Joint Economic Committee released a report assessing the impact of a bill that would require such time off — the Healthy Families Act (S. 1152, introduced by Senator Chris Dodd, and H.R. 2460, introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro):

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the JEC estimated that:

· As a result of the Healthy Families Act, at least 30.3 million additional workers would have access to paid sick leave.

· The Healthy Families Act would significantly expand access to paid sick leave for many of America’s most vulnerable workers, including lower-wage workers, women, and minorities.

o Almost half of the increased access to paid sick leave (14.7 million additional workers) would accrue to workers in the bottom wage quartile;
o Nearly half (13.3 million workers) of the increased access to paid sick leave would accrue to women workers; and,
o Almost one-third of the increased access to paid sick leave would accrue to minority workers, including 3.9 million additional African-American workers and 5.6 million additional Latino workers.

· The Healthy Families Act would also significantly expand access to paid sick leave for workers in professions with critical public health implications. For instance, 5.9 million additional food service and preparation workers would have access to paid sick leave due to the Healthy Families Act.

And what would the impact be on businesses. One state in the union has mandatory paid sick days for employees. That’s California.

I asked a business advocate in the state a while back what the mandate has done to employers:

“It wasn’t as dramatic an impact as a lot of people thought it would be,” says Mary Topliff, an employment law attorney in San Francisco. “It’s been fairly seamless for a lot of people.”

I also talked to a worker there:

Walt Yost, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, found himself taking advantage of California paid leave law after his father was diagnosed with dementia three years ago.

“He was taking care of my mom who didn’t drive and was dependent on him,” he says.

Yost ended up depleting much of his vacation time as he and his brother took time off to care for their parents.

He went to his human resource department and found out about the paid leave option and was able to take up to 30 days during a 12-month period to help out his parents.

“I was going to take the time regardless, but it took some of the financial pressure off,” he says.

It seems to make a lot of sense, and it seems to be the compassionate thing to do.

“It’s wrong that millions of workers have to choose between their paycheck and their health,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Joint Economic Committee. “It’s also bad public policy: sick employees are less productive and can spread contagious illnesses to their co-workers and others with whom they interact.”

Is it time we joined the civilized world?

Here’s a sad story I just read about a woman from Denver who didn’t have paid sick leave from 9 to 5, the National Organization of Working Women:

At 26, Tahirah found a dream job: crew leader in an airport restaurant. The wages were low and the hours long. Still, the job offered a chance to supervise and a clear path to the management track. But there were two wrinkles: her preschool age daughter has asthma and this job does not provide any paid sick days.
Tahirah managed to keep job and home from falling apart – for a while. But there were times when her daughter was sick and her manager would not allow her to leave work. There were times when Tahirah left her daughter home sick because she simply couldn’t risk being fired. One day her daughter was rushed to the hospital. A friend called to tell Tahirah to meet them there. But her manager didn’t give her the message for hours. Eventually she was forced to leave that job. She’s found others, but still none that offers the paid sick days she needs.

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