sick-days.jpgEarlier this week, a group of 47 economists from around Massachusetts voiced their support for a paid sick time bill now making its way through the state legislature and their arguments were, as you can imagine, mainly economic.

Forget the human toll on workers who have no paid sick leave. What about the impact of the lack of time off on the larger economy?

In a letter to legislators they wrote:

“Providing paid sick days in Massachusetts will help speed our economy’s recovery by protecting jobs and ensuring families have the financial security they need to spend their wages on goods and services.”

For those of you wondering what the heck I’m talking about because you may have paid sick days as part of our employment, many people aren’t as lucky.

The United States is one of the only industrialized nations without a mandatory sick day law. Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland don’t have one either. Some states, including California, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and some cities, including Seattle and Philadelphia, have passed paid family leave legislation but those are limited and don’t mandate that employers pick up the tab.

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.

And the numbers of even worse for low-wage earners.

This from New Jersey news website

Paid sick days are generally offered less often to employees earning low wages, the report said, with only 24 percent of food preparation workers getting the benefit. In contrast, 87 percent of management and 84 percent of legal employees received sick leave.

Karen White, director of the Work and Family Programs at Rutgers’s Center for Women and Work, finds the disparity troubling.

“We found that providing workers with sick days would have a positive public health impact. It would reduce the number of outbreaks of influenza,” White said.

And let’s not forget the economic pluses.

Here’s a run down of some of the economists other points:

● A study on the impacts of enacting paid sick legislation by the Economic Policy Institute concluded, “The data clearly show that the potential cost of providing paid sick days is in fact extremely small relative to the total sales of a firm. In addition, available research shows cost-savings for employers that provide paid sick days, largely resulting from reduced employee turnover.”

● Reducing turnover saves employers money – including cutting the costs of advertising, recruitment, interviewing, training, and lost productivity, often outweigh the cost of paid sick time to retain existing workers.

● When sick workers can stay home, the spread of disease slows and workplaces are healthier and more productive. Further, workers recover faster from illness and obtain timely medical care— enabling them to get back to work sooner and cutting health care costs, including $22.7 million in Emergency Room expenses for Massachusetts hospitals, including $13.4 million in taxpayer dollars.

● Providing paid sick days dramatically reduces the cost of “presenteeism” – the lost productivity stemming from employees coming to work sick. According to the Society of Human Resources Management, presenteeism costs American employers $180 billion annually, far outpacing the cost of absenteeism.

● According to the Economic Policy Institute, workers with paid sick days do not abuse the time. Among workers who currently have access to five paid sick days, the industry-weighted average number of days taken is 2.41 days; if employees used this average number of paid sick days, the total cost would be 0.19% of sales.

● Recent analysis from economists at the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that paid sick days help reduce the unemployment rate by protecting workers from firings due to their own or a family member’s health needs.

Aside from economic reasoning, there’s the issue of work-life balance. We hear a lot about this but typically the phrase is associated with middle to upper-middle-class workers, many of which have some sick days to help them balance family and their work lives.

Do we really care about work-life balance as a goal for all workers? Changing the workplace to fit a changing workforce needs to include everyone, no?

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