Passing the Healthy Families Act, which would let employees at firms with at least 15 employees earn up to seven paid sick days a year, would have a profoundly positive effect on public and individual health, according to an assessment conducted by Human Impact Partners and released by the National Partnership for Women & Families today at a House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections hearing on family-friendly legislation.
“The recent scare over swine flu should have taught us that urging workers to stay home when they are sick, or a family member is sick, is not effective if workers have to forfeit pay and risk their jobs when they miss work,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness. “A minimum standard of paid sick days will allow workers to stay home when they are ill or need to care for a sick child, without jeopardizing their economic security. It would be good for families, workers, businesses and — as this report demonstrates — good for our nation’s health.”
The new report finds that more than one-third of flu cases are transmitted at schools and workplaces, and that guaranteed paid sick days would reduce the spread of pandemic and seasonal flu by enabling workers to comply with public health advice if they or their family members show signs of illness. Infected workers staying home could reduce the spread of a pandemic flu virus by up to 34 percent, according to the study. Without preventative strategies like paid sick days, a serious flu outbreak could kill more than two million people.
Paid sick days will also protect the public from diseases carried by sick restaurant workers, more than 85 percent of whom cannot take paid time off from work when ill. From 2003 to 2007, nearly 122,000 people fell ill from foodborne disease outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 18,030 illnesses in institutional and workplace settings involved an infected food-handler, the study says.
Nursing home residents, visitors and workers would also benefit from paid sick days, which would help prevent avoidable hospitalizations and deaths. Between 30 and 45 California nursing homes would be spared norovirus outbreaks each year under a new paid sick days law, it says.
Nearly half of private-sector workers (48 percent) do not have access to paid, job-protected sick days. Seventy-nine percent of low-income workers—the majority of whom are women—do not have a single paid sick day. For them, staying home when sick means going without pay and perhaps risking their jobs. These low-income workers often have jobs with frequent contact with the public. If they are forced to come to work sick, they risk infecting others. If they stay home to recover or care for a sick child, they lose much-needed wages and face possible termination.
“Without paid sick days, millions of hard-working employees find themselves in a health-care Catch-22,” Ness said. “The Healthy Families Act offers a way out of that dilemma.”
The assessment of the Healthy Families Act was conducted by Human Impact Partners, a non-profit project of the Tides Center, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The work was commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Click here for the full report.
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.