A week after city councils in Portland and Philadelphia passed ordinances that would let workers earn paid sick days, members of Congress are pushing for a national standard. Senator Tom Harkin (D Iowa) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D Conn.) will introduce the Healthy Families Act today. The legislation would allow millions of workers to earn up to seven paid sick days per year, and keep them from having to choose between their paychecks and their health when they get sick or a family member needs care.
“Senator Harkin and Representative DeLauro have introduced a federal paid sick days bill that would keep tens of millions of workers from having to worry that one case of the flu or a sick child will mean the loss of precious income or a job,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “It is time for federal lawmakers to recognize what their counterparts in states and cities across the country increasingly know: Paid sick days make good sense for workers and their families, for the public health, for businesses and for our economy. It is time for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act and other policies that will help people manage the dual demands of work and family. Every day that passes without these policies in place means unnecessary struggle and real hardship for America’s families.”
The Healthy Families Act would allow workers at businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year to be used to address their own short-term medical needs or the needs of their families. It includes prorated leave for part-time workers, and sick days can be used for medical appointments, preventative or diagnostic treatment, and to care for a family member with comparable needs. The bill also includes a safe days provision to allow workers to use paid sick days to address domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
“A full 40 percent of private sector American workers have no access to paid sick days meaning that they cannot miss a day of work without risking a day’s pay or even their job. When illness or emergencies strike, millions of hardworking people must make an impossible choice between the job they need and their or their families’ health and well-being,” said Senator Harkin, who is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would have the security of knowing that they will be able to tend to their families and themselves without losing their jobs or their income.”
“Everyone should be able to take care of themselves and their families when they are sick without having to worry about losing their jobs,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “But in today’s America too many of our workers are unable to do this and the economy suffers because of it. Showing up to work when you are sick costs employers a staggering $160 billion a year in lost productivity and further spreads sickness to others. Ending the current system will ensure people no longer have to choose between their health or their families and their paycheck.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 40 million private sector workers in the United States do not have even a single paid sick day they can use to recover from common illnesses like the flu. Millions more cannot earn time to care for a sick child or a family member. Research shows that this can have a harmful effect on families’ financial stability: For the average family without paid sick days, the income lost during just 3.5 unpaid days is equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries.
San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Connecticut have successfully implemented paid sick days laws. Last week, Portland and Philadelphia city councils passed ordinances that would establish similar standards; both bills await mayoral approval. There are also efforts to advance paid sick days standards in dozens of other cities and states this year, including in New York City, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Public support for a national paid sick days standard like the one included in the Healthy Families Act is high. According to a poll commissioned by the National Partnership in November, 73 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of independents and 96 percent of Democrats said it is important for Congress and the president to consider new laws like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave insurance to help keep families financially secure. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said they struggle to manage their work and family responsibilities.
The National Partnership leads a broad and diverse coalition that supports 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. More information can be found at www.PaidSickDays.org.