What does a worker without paid sick leave do when she is too sick to work or has a child who is too sick to attend school? Go to work and infect …
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What does a worker without paid sick leave do when she is too
sick to work or has a child who is too sick to attend school? Go to
work and infect fellow workers or send her sick child to school to
infect the other children? Or stay home and lose needed income and
face being disciplined or fired?
This is the dilemma facing almost half of Colorado workers, and
they are predominantly lower-income earners who can least afford to
lose a day's pay. So they go to work sick and present a health risk
This creates a special public health hazard since many of these
employees work in food service and hotels, where more than 75
percent of the workers don't have paid sick leave and where they
are especially likely to transmit an illness to others. Last year a
Chipotle worker in Kent, Ohio, came to work sick with a norovirus
("stomach flu") and more than 500 people became violently ill.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug
Administration recognize that an employee coming to work sick is a
major public health problem. They recommend that workers — and
children — stay home for 24 hours after the symptoms of their
illness have disappeared. The American Academy of Pediatrics has
established specific exclusion criteria for sick children and
identified 28 symptoms and illnesses that necessitate a child
In addition to preventing spread of disease, workers with paid
sick days are able to receive prompt medical care for themselves
and their children, which may prevent serious illness, and can
better manage chronic conditions.
There is currently a campaign in a dozen states and some cities
to establish a basic workplace standard of paid sick days, and
there is a bill in Congress, the Healthy Families Act (S 910/HR
1542). Public support for such legislation is overwhelming. In a
national poll, 89 percent of voters support paid sick days, and
this support is consistent across demographic categories and party
lines. The public sees it as a basic workplace standard — like a
decent wage. Last fall, the city of Milwaukee passed a paid sick
days referendum by a majority of 69 percent despite strong
opposition by some employers.
Last week in the Colorado General Assembly, I introduced House
Bill 09-1210, which requires employers with more than five
employees to provide paid sick days to their employees. For
employers with more than 16 employees, for every 30 hours worked,
the employee would receive one hour towards a paid sick time, for a
maximum of 9 days per year. For employers with from 6 to 15
employers, the formula would be one hour of paid sick time for
every 60 hours worked. Employers with five or fewer employees would
be exempt for the requirement.
Despite overwhelming public support for paid sick days, there
will be opposition from parts of the business community. As with
every other workplace standard, for example minimum wage,
businesses will argue that they can't afford it — that businesses
will close or leave the state — even though such dire predictions
have not come to pass. Employers will argue that especially in the
current hard times they shouldn't be asked to take on any new
responsibilities. But these are hard times for workers as well.
Certainly, one is reluctant to place an additional burden on
business at this time. However, requiring paid sick days is not the
burden it may appear. The Milwaukee referendum had strong support
from some employers who argued that paid sick days improve worker
morale and reduce employee turnover.
A study conducted by the non-profit Women's Policy Research
Milwaukee employers will save $38 million annually, largely from
reduced turnover costs.
Half of all workers with paid sick days do not take any days off
for illness in a given year.
Workers will use an average of 1.8 days of paid sick leave
annually for their own medical needs, excluding maternity
Paid sick leave reduces the spread of contagious diseases.
Getting timely medical care will save money and speed
Given the importance of paid sick days for public health, the
benefits to employers as well as employees, and the public
perception that it is a fair workplace standard, I anticipate good
support for the bill. I will be consulting with business
associations, employee associations and the medical community to
ensure consensus on the bill.
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