The Need for Earned Sick Days
Oct 24, 2012
By Ariana Mozafari
Sprained ankles, back injuries, vomiting, and stomach cancer. These are just a few conditions that many workers without earned sick days silently endure in fear of losing their job if they take a day off work. Every day, poorly paid employees decide between their health and their paychecks, even forsaking the care of their sick children to provide a meal for them that night.
Ai Elo from New York City is the primary caretaker of her younger siblings. She lost her $4.65/hour job because she stayed home one day to care for her sick brother. When she was let go, she had back and knee injuries from picking up extra shifts to try to make ends meet.
Paul - a veteran - was vomiting with a 103 degree fever after working nine hours at a restaurant. He decided to leave his shift one hour early to protect the customers' health. Not only was Paul fired because of the incident, but his employer challenged his unemployment application, stating that Paul had voluntarily given up his job when he left his shift an hour early.
Tonisha Howard was fired from her job because she accompanied her 2-year-old son to the hospital when he had a severe asthma attack. After being fired, she tried to make ends meet with two part-time jobs, but it was not enough. Tonisha and her kids were recently evicted.
These stories are described in Family Values @ Work's new report, Sick and Fired: Why We Need Earned Sick Days to Boost the Economy. Nearly 1 in 4 workers in this country, including 8 in 10 low-wage workers, are facing the same struggles as Ai, Paul, and Tonisha since they get no earned sick days.
Why earned sick days? When employees take time off to take care of sick family members or themselves, they lose valuable earnings that could make the difference between being able to purchase groceries and going hungry. Earned sick days allow workers to care for their health without risking their livelihood. A minimum number of earned sick days for every employee would prevent difficult sacrifices, escalated health issues, and would ultimately bring higher-quality service to customers and improve local economies.
Michael Powell of the New York Times recently highlighted the problem in his article "2 Women in Queens and Many Others Find a Sick Day Could Mean They're Fired." The article also discussed the difficulty of getting an earned sick days law passed in New York City, which has an active coalition working to get a law on the books. Even in a city like New York, where reform laws have passed in some areas to help workers, the City Council Chair and Mayor Bloomberg seem reluctant to enact a law requiring a minimum amount of earned sick days. An estimated 700,000 to 1.2 million New York City workers do not have earned sick days, Powell states, and yet the desire to not interfere with free-market enterprise seems to trump this effort.
CLASP is actively advocating for state and federal earned sick days policies, while also working to engage businesses in voicing their support. You can learn more about business support and how to engage businesses in your own community here >>
At the end of the day, it's simple. No one should have to choose between their health and their job.