Five states, 22 cities, and one county in the United States mandate paid sick leave benefits, making the United States the only country among 22 developed nations that doesn’t guarantee paid leave if someone falls ill or has to care for a sick family member.
President Obama in 2015 signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to allow their employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick time annually. He also wants businesses with 15 or more employees to offer seven paid sick days each year. Some Democrats have even proposed a massive government paid-leave entitlement program.
Vermont legislators in February approved a bill that supports paid sick days. It’s the fifth state to legislate the benefit, joining Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon. The legislation requires employers to provide employees with three paid sick days each year in 2017 and 2018. The number rises to five paid sick days beginning in 2019. The requirement does not apply to employees who work fewer than 18 hours per week or 21 weeks a year, employees under the age of 18; or seasonal workers.
And while a 2013 survey by a HuffPost/YouGov_poll found that 74 percent of Americans support government action, there are some who say that legislating paid sick leave will cause more problems than it fixes.
The Case for Paid Sick Leave
One of the biggest arguments in favor of paid sick leave is that sick employees should not come to work. When someone who is ill stays at home, the chances of that illness being shared at work diminishes. Plus, workers recover faster from illness when they have the time to rest or seek medical attention.
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that nearly two-thirds of servers and cooks say they have served or cooked while ill. This increases the likelihood that illnesses will be spread to customers, causing potential public health issues.
Many workers choose to come to work ill because they fear they will lose pay or their job if they stay home to recover. Some also call in sick to stay with a sick child who cannot stay home alone.
While some employees do come to work when they are ill, it can lead to what is known as “presenteeism,” which means employees are not working up to their potential.
According to the United States Department of Labor, workers without paid sick time are more likely than their counterparts with paid sick time to be injured on the job, especially those employed in health care support occupations, construction and production.
Paid sick leave is thought to build loyalty and reduce turnover, which is particularly important in the lower wage industries where turnover is highest. Replacing workers can be expensive. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it costs about 38 percent of an employee’s annual earnings to replace them, including recruitment, training, the separation process and losses in productivity.
There also are concerns about how the lack of paid leave affects health care costs. Many emergency centers report that workers without paid sick leave are more than twice as likely to seek emergency room care because they can’t take time off during normal work hours.
The Case Against Paid Sick Leave
On the opposing side, employers argue that mandatory paid sick leave may force price increases on goods and services and/or reduce employees’ hours or other benefits.
Following passage of San Francisco’s paid leave mandate, for instance, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research study showed that nearly 30 percent of the lowest-wage employees reported layoffs or reduced hours at their workplace. An Urban Institute study found that to comply with the law’s requirements some employers had scaled back on employee bonuses, vacation time, and part-time help.
In addition, studies have shown that even with mandatory paid sick leave, workers still come to work sick just as often. A report by the Freedom Foundation indicated that of five studies that examined the effect of mandatory paid sick leave laws on presenteeism, four found no reduction.
The reason given for mandating paid leave in Seattle was that employees were being forced to work while they were ill. However, survey results suggest such claims were overstated and not a serious problem, according to 83 percent of the businesses surveyed.
Another reason employers resisted mandated paid sick leave was its “one size fits all” approach. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 30 percent of a worker’s total compensation goes to provide benefits. Some opponents of mandated benefits think some workers might prefer more take-home pay and fewer benefits.
Opponents also argue that it’s wrong to think that workers will only be treated fairly if paid sick leave is legislated by the government. Many employers already provide paid sick leave.