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Paid Family Leave

Access to paid leave is a critical component of early childhood development policy. Because so much of brain development occurs in the early months and years, RESULTS supports policies that ensure that all families have access to some paid maternity and paternity leave, and paid sick days.

Millions of workers go to their jobs sick, send a sick child to school, or are unable to take care of an ill family member because they do not have paid sick leave. Low-wage mothers, particularly, struggle with the challenge of not having paid sick leave. For low-income individuals without paid leave, staying home to take care of an ill child or to recover from their own illness means losing a day’s wages, or even jeopardizing their job. Children whose parents do not have paid sick leave are more likely to be sent to school with an illness, raising the likelihood that it will be spread to others. In addition, these children are more likely to receive delayed treatment, resulting in worsened health outcomes. Those working in low-wage jobs dealing with the public, such as in the fast food industry and childcare, often have no paid sick leave. Thus, not allowing these individuals to have paid sick leave is detrimental not only to their own health, but also to the public’s.

Family and Medical Leave Act Gives Unpaid Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. Before the law was enacted, many employees were unable to take time off from work to care for an ailing child or other family member for fear of losing their jobs. Millions of working women were not assured of time off even to give birth.

FMLA guarantees that people who work for companies with more than 50 employees can take up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave a year to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or for certain seriously ill family members, or to recover from their own serious health conditions. For a complete explanation of FMLA, see the FMLA Guide.

Paid Sick Leave

The United States is one of only three countries (US, Canada, Japan) that have no national policy requiring employers to provide paid sick days to workers who have to miss five days of work to recover from the flu. In Canada, most provinces require paid sick days. According to Harvard University’s The Project on Global Working Families, 139 nations provide paid leave for short or long term illnesses, and 117 of those nations guarantee their workers a week or more of paid sick days per year. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a January 2011 Fact Sheet  that found the estimated number of employees who can access paid sick days decreased noticeably. In 2010, 4.2 million eomployees were hypotheically eligible for paid sick days but in reality lacked access due to short job tenure. When accounting for those employees, only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010. A total of 44 million private sector employees lacked access to paid sick days. Of special concern is that 77 percent of food service workers lacked access to paid sick days.

The Institute's July 2008 Fact Sheet (PDF), titled Some Small and Medium-Size Establishments Join Large Ones in Offering Paid Sick Days presents the percent of establishments, categorized by size, offering paid sick days, vacation, personal leave, paid family leave, and unpaid family leave. It also shows the percent of establishments offering some kind of paid leave versus those offering no paid leave at all. Some of the findings of note:

  • Virtually all large establishments (those with 5,000 or more employees) provide paid sick days to some or all of their workers: 99 percent. The same share offers paid vacation leave.
  • Paid time off benefits are less common in smaller firms, but even in the smallest — those with one to nine employees — more than half provide paid sick days (56 percent), and nearly three-quarters have vacation policies (72 percent).
  • Only one-quarter of small establishments have paid personal leave policies (24 percent; this type of leave includes miscellaneous policies as defined by individual establishments).
  • In contrast, establishments of all sizes have made very minimal efforts to establish paid family leave policies: Just five percent of small establishments and nine percent of the largest establishments have these plans.

And yet another April 2010 publication by the Institute lists the variety of ways in which a paid sick days policy can contribute to lowering health care costs, including reducing contagion, increasing access to lower-cost preventive care, and reducing expensive emergency room usage.

According to a Cornell study, absenteeism costs our national economy $180 billion each year in lost productivity. For employers, this costs an average of $255 per employee per year and exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits. Reducing an employer’s turnover by providing paid sick days would yield substantial savings. The money lost in replacing an employee through advertising, interviewing, and training is substantial.

Policies to Support Paid Leave

The public in the U.S. is ready to support, by large margins and on a bipartisan basis, a policy of paid sick days according to recent polling conducted by a research firm and by the University of Chicago. In the Chicago study, three quarters of adults support a law that allows workers to earn a minimum number of paid sick days, while 90 percent support a proposal providing up to 7 paid sick days per year.

On May 12, 2011, the Healthy Families Act (S.984, H.R.1876) was reintroduced in Congress by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3). The Act would guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness or to care for a sick family member. It provides paid sick time for diagnostic or medical appointments. It would also allow workers to use paid sick time to recover from or seek assistance related to an incident of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Sick days are accrued under a simplified method. It allows workers to earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours (seven days) a year, unless the employer selects a higher limit. Employers with fewer than 15 workers are exempt.

Progress on this issue is being made by state and local governments. Connecticut is the only state in the nation with a statewide paid sick days law that allows a significant share of workers in the state to earn paid sick days to recover from illness, seek medical care, or care for a sick child or spouse. San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Seattle have laws that allow workers citywide to earn paid sick days to recover from a short-term illness, care for a sick family member, or seek routine medical care. In 2011, Philadelphia passed a similar bill that is awaiting the mayor's approval.

Paid Leave Resources

For ongoing and updated information on recent paid leave campaigns, new research, and blogs, visit:

National Partnership for Women & Families: Support Paid Sick Days

National Partnership for Women & Families: Paid Sick Days Document Library

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) provides these advocacy tools:

Paid Sick Days: Reaching Out to Businesses to Say YES to a Level Playing Field is a resource guide to help state and local advocates recruit business leaders, owners, and trade groups to help gain support for paid sick day’s legislation.

Advocates’ Answers to Businesses’ Frequently Asked Questions provides a distilled version of the Healthy Families Act in a Question and Answer form and is aimed at dispelling any myths about the legislation.

A Comparison of Three Cities’ Laws and Pending Federal Legislation, is a comparison table of the bills in San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee, and the federal Healthy Families Act.