CLASP Points to Reports and Why Paid Sick Days Needs to be Legislated

Jun 30, 2010

By Andrea Lindemann

A report released today found that 40 percent of surveyed employers have attendance policies that appear to punish workers for taking time off from work to recover from illness or take care of a sick family member. This extraordinarily high percentage underscores why workers need protections provided in the pending Healthy Families Act.

WorldatWork, a global human resources organization, released the report, "Paid Time off Program and Practices", during a congressional briefing today sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT). The survey respondents are members of WorldatWork, who are human resource professionals typically at large firms (less than 5 percent of the organizations surveyed employed less than 100 employees). Thus, the findings might well vary significantly if the firms surveyed were nationally representative.  Further, the responding firms were only asked about paid time off for full-time workers.

The report focused on surveyed employers' paid time off policies, and it included data on the frequency of an employer policy that penalizes employees for absences, even if the absence is due to illness. Advocates refer to such policies as "demerits," while employers often refer to such policies as "no-fault attendance policies." The bottom line, though, is that this type of policy is generally a disciplinary attendance system in which all absences count against the employee. Policies vary, and employees could be subject to warnings or even termination after earning a certain number of points. Conversely, a no-fault attendance policy might be used to award employees with perfect attendance. The survey asks about attendance tracking only of those firms which provide traditional paid sick days and not of those companies which offer a paid time off "bank." With PTO banks, employers bundle sick days, vacation, and personal days together and do not record which reason causes the time to be taken. The assumption is that employers who offer paid time off banks expect employees to take the days in the bank.

Employees need sound work/life balance, including time off to address their health or a loved one's health without worrying about demerits or other repercussions. Since there is no national paid sick days law, absences for illness are unprotected and employers are free to discipline or even terminate employees for taking time off work when they are sick.

In fact, a report recently released by the National Opinion Research Council found that job loss because sick time is taken is far from rare. Specifically, 12% of those surveyed indicated that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, or otherwise punished for taking time off for an illness.

The Healthy Families Act would make it illegal for a paid sick day that gets taken to be used against an employee. That is, in part, why we urge Congress to pass this legislation.


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