Workers deserve paid sick leave

Posted 2/3/09

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 …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?

Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.


Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.

Our print publications are advertiser supported. For those wishing to access our content online, we have implemented a small charge so we may continue to provide our valued readers and community with unique, high quality local content. Thank you for supporting your local newspaper.

Workers deserve paid sick leave


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 to others.

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 staying home.

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 showed that:

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 leave.

Paid sick leave reduces the spread of contagious diseases.

Getting timely medical care will save money and speed recovery.

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.


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.