Today national public health and workplace advocates issued new findings that show that a national paid sick days standard would contain health care costs and establish a crucial safety net for workers who too often are forced to choose between their health and their job when illness strikes.
As the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported, 50 million workers in America lack paid sick time — including 40% of the private workforce — and today’s briefing, by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research with the National Partnership for Women & Families and Family Values at Work, calls for passage of the Healthy Families Act (HR 2460/S 1152) as a practical next step for building on health care reform.
“Health reform was a giant step forward, but working people need to be able to access health care. The best system in the world does no good to a worker who can’t take time off to visit a doctor or get a test. That’s a problem for women in particular because we are both bread-winners and caregivers for our families. The Healthy Families Act will cut health costs, and improve economic security for Americans,” said Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Terrell McSweeny, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Deputy Assistant to the President, also addressed the advocates, small business owners and workers who gathered from around the country Tuesday to call for passage of the federal legislation.
The findings released today summarize the growing evidence that paid sick days (PSD) would help contain health care costs through:
1) Contagion prevention: costs associated with seasonal and pandemic flus, like H1N1, would be reduced as PSD could prevent spread of flu or other contagious illnesses such as norovirus and Hepatitis A. The IWPR estimates that passage of the Healthy Families Act would result in savings for workers of over $100 million a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses resulting from seasonal flu alone. Paid leave to care for elderly parents or other family members who become ill could save over $700 million a year by avoiding temporary placement in care facilities.
2) Increased preventative care: allowing workers the time to seek preventative care for things like smoking cessation and cancer detection would reduce health care costs.
3) Reduced ER reliance: Paid sick days would improve health outcomes for those able to see primary care through their physician and reduce the preventable use of emergency rooms. Emergency department care can cost two to five times as much as primary care; the cost of non-urgent emergency room care is $20 to $32 billion annually.
“As we seek a more efficient and fair health care system, we have to remember that that the workplace has changed enormously,” said Ellen Bravo, Director of Family Values at Work. “For the first time, women make up a majority of the American workforce and most children today have employed parents. More workers also care for aging parents. But when the flu strikes, many aren’t allowed even a partial day off to take their child or parent to the doctor. We need to update workplace policies to meet the needs of today’s families.”
“Nothing has brought home the need for paid sick days more than the recession. Now more than ever, families need flexible workplace policies that allow them to take a day off when they or their child is sick. Every paycheck counts — particularly for women, low-wage and minority workers, who are the least likely to have access to paid sick days,” said Kevin Miller, Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who presented the findings.
Small business owners and workers traveled from Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington to join the advocates and share why paid sick days and family leave insurance are especially critical now.
“When I was sick with the flu, my supervisor told me I needed to work, or I could lose my job — I went to work, but that’s still exactly what happened,” said Megan Sacks, a restaurant server in Tacoma, WA. “A customer called the health department, and the general manager reprimanded me. Shortly after, I was let go. No one should have to make the impossible choice between risking losing their job and getting well — especially because sick workers being on the job is as bad for businesses as it is for employees.”
The Tuesday briefing followed remarks from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on Monday in which she addressed the need for workplace policies. The Obama administration, including First Lady Michelle Obama, have also signaled that work and family issues are a priority. Last month President Obama called for greater workplace flexibility, citing a “disconnect between the needs of our families and the demands of our workplace.”
“I believe that my employees do their best work if they are not distracted by family emergencies and that offering a better quality of life to employees helps me attract the best and the brightest,” said small business owner Kelly Conklin of Bloomfield, NJ. Mr. Conklin owns Foley-Waite Associates Inc., which manufactures built-in cabinets and wood furniture.
The Healthy Families Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, would allow employees to earn up to 7 days of paid sick days per year at businesses with 15 or more employees — covering more than 30 million working families. Momentum for paid sick days has been growing as cities and states across the country pursue legislation similar to the federal bill. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington D.C. have already passed local paid sick days laws and policymakers in at least 15 states are considering similar legislation. The Obama administration has also included $50 million in the budget for competitive grants to the states to help spur state family leave programs. California and New Jersey have already launched such programs; a number of other states are gearing up to do the same.
PARTICIPANTS — WORKERS & BUSINESS OWNERS
PAID FAMILY LEAVE
Selena Allen, Auburn, WA
Selena’s son was born prematurely. She wanted to save her limited family leave until after her son left the hospital. So, despite her son’s health issues, she returned to work days after giving birth. She commuted through rush hour traffic from work to the hospital for visiting hours and back to pick up her older son from childcare, all while recovering from childbirth and missing the first days of bonding with her infant.
Kelly Conklin, Bloomfield, NJ
Kelly owns Foley-Waite Associates Inc., which manufactures built-in cabinets and wood furniture. As an employer, she finds New Jersey’s family leave insurance fund is not a hardship because there is no employer contribution. She believes that her employees do their best work if they are not distracted by family emergencies and that offering a better quality of life to employees helps her to attract the best and the brightest.
Julie Markiewicz, Portland, OR
A few years ago, Julie was in a terrible motorcycle accident. Because none of her family could take off time from work, she had to be alone at the hospital and at home.
PAID SICK DAYS
Roseanne Martino, New York City, NY
Roseanne is the general manager of One If By Land, an upscale restaurant that supports paid sick days.
Megan Sacks, Tacoma, WA
Megan works as a server in a restaurant and has no paid sick days. She called in sick with the flu, but was told by her supervisor that, unless she was “on her deathbed,” she had to work. A customer called the health department and three weeks later she lost her job.
Mary Tillman, Mattapan, MA
Mary is a personal care attendant who works with seniors and people with disabilities. She has no paid sick days, vacation days or other paid days off. She is raising three of grandchildren and one great grandchild. When any of them get sick, she has to take them with her to work.
Marilynn Winn, Atlanta, GA
Marilynn is her elderly mother’s only caregiver. In 2008, she worked at the Braves’ stadium, Turner Field. Her mother was the victim of identity theft, lost everything, and needed help filing for food stamps. Marilynn’s employer said she may not still have a job if she took time off to help her mother, so her mother did not get food stamps that year.