Paid sick days: Help in a tough economy


It’s no secret that times are tough for working families right now. Family budgets are dangerously tight even though parents are working more hours than ever. And while they’re working hard just to hold onto their jobs, family responsibilities still await them when they get home at the end of the day.

Even during an economic downturn, family members get sick and kids need to be taken to the doctor. The need to occasionally take some time away from work doesn’t go away.

Unfortunately, for too many working people, taking that much-needed time away from work can mean making impossible choices between caring for family and hanging onto a job. That’s because tens of millions of workers in the U.S. have jobs that offer no job-protected paid sick days. That means workers who have to take time away from work are forced to forego pay, and the family budget takes a hit-a hit from which it may not recover.

Even worse, we’re learning that fear of losing a job is rooted in harsh reality: a recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago for the Public Welfare Foundation found that one in six workers say they or a family member has been fired, suspended, punished or threatened by an employer for taking time off for personal illness or to care for a sick family member.

Suffice it to say, working families are struggling, and they’re looking for solutions. Policymakers are responding with proposals designed to ease families’ financial crises. In the past, these proposals were often missing a critical piece of the puzzle: work/family policies like paid sick days. For too long, paid family leave was labeled a “women’s issue,” and pushed aside in favor of other initiatives to stabilize families’ finances. But finally, after years during which advocates called for better, more practical solutions, elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels are responding. Recently we’ve heard Congressional leaders and even presidential candidates recognize that policies like paid sick days are essential to economic security. They are acknowledging that these policies make life better for working families. Work and family advocates know that it’s high time to implement this chronically overlooked solution.

Paid Sick Days are Good for Business
Healthy workers are critical to a productive economy. If workers were offered seven paid sick days a year, our national economy would experience a net savings of $8.1 billion a year due to increased productivity and reduced turnover.(1)

When people have no choice but to go to work sick, they risk infecting others. Nearly half (48%) of private-sector workers-57 million people-are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill.(2) A recent poll of workers in Ohio by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that half of the respondents had gone to work sick in the past year because they could not afford to lose pay.(3)

Our national economy can’t afford “presenteeism,” when sick workers come to work rather than stay at home. More than half (56%) of human resources executives say that “presenteeism,” workers coming to work even though they are ill, is a problem because they risk infecting others and may lower productivity.(4) “Presenteeism” costs our national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity. For employers, this costs an average of $255 per employee per year and exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits.(5)

Paid sick days would save employers money by reducing turnover. The costs of replacing workers, including advertising positions and interviewing and training replacements, are often greater than the costs of paid sick time to retain existing workers. A minimum standard of paid sick days levels the playing field for employers that already provide paid sick days.(6)

Job Growth Strong Under Paid Sick Days Standard
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has released new research showing that, following the implementation of the San Francisco paid sick days standard, the city has maintained a competitive job growth rate. In fact, despite an economic slowdown, San Francisco’s job growth has been strong, especially when compared to other Bay Area counties. This groundbreaking research suggests that, similar to other labor standards, adopting paid sick days standards does not negatively affect job growth.

While no state or federal laws guarantee paid sick days, campaigns in over a dozen states-including locally in Minnesota-are mobilizing in support of this basic workplace standard. Paid sick days legislation, like the state Healthy Families, Healthy Workplace Act and the federal Healthy Families Act (S 910/HR 1542), would guarantee workers a minimum number of paid sick days a year to recover from illness, care for a sick family member or attend diagnostic and medical appointments.

If you have been punished, lost your job, or missed a bill because you were sick tell us your story. Contact Erin at Minnesota ACORN at 651-642-9639 X 105 or at

1 Vicky Lovell, Valuing Good Health: An Estimate of Costs and Savings for the Healthy Families Act, Institute of Women’s Policy Research, 2005.
2 Vicky Lovell, No Time to Be Sick.
3 NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health, Health Care and the Economy in Two Swing States: A Look at Ohio and Florida. July 2008.
4 CCH Incorporated, 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, October 2006.
5 Ron Goetzal, et al, Health Absence, Disability, and Presenteeism Cost Estimates of Certain Physical and Mental Health Conditions Affecting U.S. Employers, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 2004.
6 Christine Siegwarth Meyer, et al, Work-Family Benefits: Which Ones Maximize Profits?, Journal of Managerial Issues, vol. 13, no. 1, Spring 2001.