National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

New Survey: People Need, Want Paid Sick Days

Do you worry about losing your job when you get sick? If you're like 40 million other workers in this country, perhaps you should!

In a new survey conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, commissioned by the Public Welfare Foundation, one in six people report that they have lost a job for taking time off from work to care for a sick child or family member, or to cope with their own illness.

But it doesn't stop there. The survey findings also suggest that the lack of paid sick days is harming public health, and straining the nation's health care system. It makes perfect sense: Without paid sick days, more people to go to work sick, multiplying their chance of infecting others. People without paid sick days can't take time off from work to go to the doctor - and according to the new survey, they are then twice as likely as people with paid sick days to use an emergency room.

Government data show that nearly 40 percent of workers in this country do not have paid sick days. Even more don't have paid time off to care for a sick child or family member. In light of the public health risk and economic insecurity caused by the lack of paid sick days, it isn't surprising that across all demographic groups, the public says paid sick days are a basic worker's right. The public favors a law that guarantees paid sick days for all workers. In fact, a whopping 86% of respondents would back a plan providing workers up to seven paid sick days per year.

San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have paid sick day laws in place, and voters in Milwaukee passed a paid sick days measure. There is strong support in the New York City Council for the citywide paid sick days law now under consideration. More than 20 states saw the introduction of paid sick days bills in the 2009-2010 legislative sessions, and as many as 24 states and localities are expected to see the same next year. Congress is considering the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers at businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days annually. By all appearances, one would think the tide is turning - but we aren't nearly there yet.

The survey relays a clear message from the public: No one should have to make the impossible choice between their job and their own health or the health of their loved ones. Now more than ever, workers need paid sick days.


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