Workers' Memorial Day Brings Paid Sick Days Into Focus

Apr 22, 2013

By Lauren French, Georgetown University Law Center Intern

On April 28, we will observe Workers' Memorial Day to remember the men and women who have suffered and died on the job from workplace injuries and diseases. Forty-two years ago, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, with the goal of improving workplace safety and protecting workers from hazards on the job. Although there have been vast improvements since the law's enactment, there is still much work to be done in guaranteeing every worker the right to a safe job.

Evidence continues to mount concerning the inextricable link between public health and access to paid sick days. A recent study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the American Journal of Public Health, has found that workers with paid sick days were 28 percent less likely than those without leave to be injured on the job. On March 19, CLASP held a national conference call to discuss these intersections between worker safety issues and sick days policies. This call brought together advocates from both the workers' safety and paid sick days communities to explore commonalities in their missions to ensure a worker's right to a safe and healthy job.

Surveys have shown that there are high levels of public support for both improved worker safety and paid sick days policies. A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago for the Public Welfare Foundation found that 77 percent of Americans believe that paid sick days are a "very important" worker right. Furthermore, 89 percent reported that they considered workplace safety regulations to be "very important."

The economic costs of workplace injury and illness cannot be ignored. Every year, workplace illness and injury costs more than $250 billion in healthcare services, lost earnings, and lost production. The brunt of this cost is felt by low-wage workers, who suffer 1.7 million workplace-related illnesses and injuries a year-at a cost of $39 million dollars. These are the same workers who are likely not to have access to paid sick days and who are less able to bear the burden of lost wages.

The discovery of this statistical link between workplace safety and paid sick days is an important discovery for advocates and policymakers. It is clear that workers around the country are being put in jeopardy every day by employer policies that force them to come to work, even if it puts their physical safety at risk. It is important on Workers' Memorial Day that we not only remember fallen workers, but that we strengthen our resolve in the fight for safe and healthy workplaces.

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