The most recent health-related reform in the United States was Obamacare, which went off with mixed reviews. However, it means that Americans now have access to at least some form of health insurance, whereas before it was hit-or-miss. After that occurred, the next question in people’s minds was: who pays if employees are sick and can’t work?
Is Sick Leave Currently Paid?
Right now, no employers are legally required to pay their employees for days missed because they’re sick, regardless of whether it’s their own short-term illness or their family member’s. Employees can take (unpaid) time off for serious illnesses, with this being covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act; however, this is restricted to companies that have at least 50 employees and employees who have worked there for at least a year.
For 40 million Americans (or, 40% of workers in the private sector), there is no such thing as paid sick leave, just time they have to take off if they really can’t work because they’re too ill. Instead, they have to either show up at work sick and hope their illness doesn’t last too long, or leave their sick child at home alone because they won’t get paid to mind them during the day.
Going even further, 10 states have outright banned the notion of paid sick leave: Georgia (pre-2010); Wisconsin (2011); Louisiana (2012); and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina (2013). Altogether, 14 states have, or are trying to, ban sick days: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
States with Paid Sick Leave Laws
Out of 50 states, only seven—seven!—jurisdictions have paid sick leave: San Francisco (2006); Washington, DC (2008); Milwaukee (2008); Connecticut (2011); Portland, Oregon (2013). But recently, news from New Jersey makes it the fifth and sixth ones to jump onboard, as city council in Newark just passed a law, following Jersey City just months earlier.
Along with Newark and Jersey City, lawmakers and activists in California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington (Tacoma) are also trying to do the same. New York City, which currently has a law in place, is trying to expand on it: instead of only giving employees working at companies with 15+ workers five paid sick days—a law which doesn’t take effect until October 2015—Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the law to extend to companies who only have a minimum of five employees, not 15.
Against the Rest of the Competitive World
In the case of “competitive world”, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has listed the following: the European Union; Australia; Austria; Belgium; Canada; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Portugal; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; United Kingdom; and the United States.
Of that list, the United States is the only member to uniformly offer no paid time off (the caveat of this paper is that employees may be expected to use holiday time as “sick days”). France is the highest on the list with a combination of 21 paid holidays/vacation days (all EU countries have a floor of at least 20 days), with our neighbors to the north in third last at a combined 19.
The cost of paid sick leave goes much further than just “paying people to be sick”, it’s an investment in the health of our country’s employees. If employees have to show up at work sick—with the majority of those affected being low-income workers, with a couple of unpaid sick days off resulting in a blown health insurance budget for the year—then the country pays $62 billion a year more than if they just got a day off to get well.
It also lets employees look after themselves preventatively before their illnesses get worse, which lowers costs even more if they don’t have to make a trip to the emergency room.
Just a point to think about when Congress takes it easy on one of the 239 days off they’ll have off this year.