Press Release
Lack of Paid Sick Days Takes Significant Toll on Workers’ Job Security & the Public Health, New Survey Finds

Nearly one in six people polled in a national survey(16 percent) say 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. Released today, the survey was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago this spring.

It finds that the lack of paid sick days is harming public health, and straining the nation’s health care system, in measurable ways:

  • More than half of workers without paid sick days (55 percent) have gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu, compared to 37 percent of workers with paid sick days.
  • People without paid sick days are twice as likely as those with paid sick days to use hospital emergency rooms (20 percent vs. 10 percent) because they “were unable to take off from work to get medical care during normal job hours.”
  • Nearly twice as many workers without paid sick days (24 percent) have sent a sick child to school or daycare than workers with paid sick days (14 percent).

Government data show that more than 40 million workers in this country do not have paid sick days, and many more do not have paid sick days that they can use to care for a sick child or family member. “This new survey shows conclusively that our nation is paying a high price for not allowing workers to earn paid sick days,” said Deborah Leff, president of the Public Welfare Foundation. “It demonstrates that not having paid sick days drives up the costs of health care and causes more people to go to work sick, creating public health risks for everyone. It is no wonder that a strong majority of people across in every racial group, every income level, every age group, every part of the country, and both political parties see paid sick days as a basic worker’s right, just like being paid a decent wage.”

Seven in ten respondents in the new survey (69 percent) say paid sick days are “very important” for workers. Women, African Americans, people with low incomes and Democrats express the highest support, but 64 percent of people who call themselves strong Republicans say they see paid sick days as very important. Three in four respondents overall (75 percent) favor a law that guarantees paid sick days for all workers, and most support pro-rated paid sick days for part-time workers. Among the other findings in the new survey:

  • Three in four respondents say paid sick days are a basic worker’s right.
  • 86 percent of respondents back a plan that would require a minimum of seven paid sick days per year, and 70 percent back a plan requiring a minimum of nine paid sick days for full-time workers.
  • Just 17 percent say employers with fewer than 15 employees should be exempted from providing any paid sick days; 47 percent say smaller employers should provide “some but fewer” paid sick days to employees; and 33 percent say smaller employers should provide the same number of paid sick days as larger employers.
  • 47 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs paid sick days legislation, and just 14 indicate they would be less likely to vote for a candidate with that view.

“Americans overwhelmingly view paid sick days as a basic labor standard,” concluded Dr. Tom W. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the National Opinion Research Center and director of the study. “By a margin of 33 points, voters were more likely to support a candidate who favored paid sick days.”

San Francisco and Washington, DC have paid sick day laws in place, and voters in Milwaukee passed a paid sick days measure that is under consideration by state courts. More than a dozen states and localities are expected to consider paid sick days measures in the 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.

The new survey conducted by NORC was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC. It included phone calls to 1,461 randomly selected people this spring.

The survey report is available at and at

The Public Welfare Foundation is a national foundation with assets of more than $460 million that supports efforts to ensure fundamental rights and opportunities for people in need. Its primary areas of focus are Workers’ Rights, Health Reform, and Criminal and Juvenile Justice. For more information, please visit

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The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family.

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