Paid Sick Leave is a Win for Workers and the Economy

The White House is reportedly considering an executive order that would require that federal contractors provide their employees with seven days of paid sick leave.  This is a step in the right direction: The United States remains alone among our economic peers worldwide in failing to give all workers access to earned paid sick time. Through this executive order, President Obama can lead by example, and start to shift the paradigm towards giving more American workers and their families the right to take paid leave to care for their own or their family members’ health needs.

Currently paid sick days laws are or will soon be in place in 24 jurisdictions across the country, including four states: Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. The evidence from these jurisdictions has been overwhelmingly positive. The first jurisdiction to set a paid sick days standard was San Francisco, where employers have been required to offer earned paid leave since 2007. Fears that the law would impede job growth were never realized. In fact, during the five years following its implementation, employment in San Francisco grew twice as fast as in neighboring counties that had no sick leave policy. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, San Francisco’s job growth was even faster in the foodservice and hospitality sector, which is dominated by small businesses and viewed as vulnerable to additional costs. Connecticut, meanwhile, became the first state to enact a sick-days standard in 2011. A year-and-a-half after the law took effect, researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the law brought sick leave to a large number of workers, particularly part-time workers, at little to no cost to business. By mid-2013, more than three-quarters of employers expressed support for the law.

Expanding access to paid sick leave makes for stronger, healthier families. Working parents are often forced to choose between staying home with a sick child and going to work. When parents cannot take off work, children are sometimes sent to school ill, diminishing their learning experience and exposing other students, teachers, and staff to infection. When employees go to work sick, they endanger their own health and the health of their colleagues while jeopardizing safety and the quality of their work. At the same time, staying home and putting one’s own health first can result in overdue bills and not having enough food to eat.

Another reason for paid sick time requirements is that access to leave is currently vastly unequal. Among private sector workers, only 22 percent of workers in the bottom 10 percent of the wage distribution have access to paid sick leave, compared with 86 percent in the top 10 percent. Low-income workers are the ones who can least afford to lose pay when they are sick.

I applaud President Obama and Secretary Perez for protecting more American workers and their families. If only the idea would catch on, then the 39 percent of private-sector workers without any paid sick time would have a chance to earn it, with the health and economic security that comes with it.