National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness, one of the nation’s top experts on family friendly workplace policies, testified Tuesday in support of the bill. “Chances are each of us will get sick or need to care for a sick family member this year,” Ness said in her testimony. “But not all of us have the option to take time off from work to get better. This groundbreaking legislation would guarantee workers seven paid sick days annually to recover from their own illness or care for a sick family member. It is tremendously important to people all across the country. Congress should waste no time in passing it.”
The Healthy Families Act would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide seven paid sick days to address an employee’s short-term medical needs or those of his or her family. Today 48 percent of private-sector workers and 76 percent of low-wage workers have no paid sick days. In addition to Ness, witnesses at today’s hearing included Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, MD, MPH of the San Francisco Department of Health; Heidi I. Hartmann, PHD of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; and Dr. Jody Heymann, MD, PHD of Harvard and McGill Universities.
“The United States lags dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries when it comes to paid sick days,” Dr. Heymann said in her testimony. “Can the U.S. afford to provide paid sick days and still compete in the global economy? The answer is clearly yes. Most of the world already has legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. All the most competitive economies do.”
The legislation also provides sick days for an employee’s medical appointment, or other preventative or diagnostic treatment; and to care for a family member with comparable needs. It provides pro-rated leave for part-time employees.
Ness said the National Partnership is leading a coalition in support of the Healthy Families Act; it includes children’s, civil rights, women’s, disability, faith-based, community and anti-poverty groups as well as labor unions, health advocates and leading researchers at top academic institutions. “We come together in support of this bill because millions of Americans are being forced to choose between taking care of a sick child or family member and losing a day’s pay or even losing a job,” she said. “In a nation that values families, no worker should have to make this impossible choice.”
Women are disproportionately affected by the lack of paid sick days, Ness testified, because they provide most family care, and the nation would be better off if workers could stay home when they are sick and parents could keep sick children at home rather than sending them to school or daycare. She added that businesses would save money on “presenteeism” employees’ practice of coming to work even though they are sick which may cost our economy $180 billion in lost productivity annually.
San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved the country’s first paid sick days ordinance in November. So far this year, paid sick days bills have been introduced in legislatures in Connecticut, Florida, Maine and Massachusetts and will soon be introduced in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the City of Madison. The Healthy Families Act will provide paid sick days for all workers. It was introduced in the previous Congress, but this is the first hearing to consider its impact.
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.