American Public Health Association Voices Support for Paid Leave

By Lauren French

In exciting news for earned sick days and paid family and medical leave advocates across the country, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued a new policy statement supporting steps to create paid leave policies. This is a tremendous endorsement for paid leave campaigns, as well as for millions of U.S. workers who currently lack any access paid leave.  

APHA is the world's largest and most diverse public health association and is the primary voice for public health advocacy in the United States. The organization has been an important advocate for the health of working families and has previously recognized the importance of paid leave to the public health by signing on to support the Healthy Families Act, legislation that would set a national standard for paid sick days.

These health experts recognize that access to paid leave is a necessary component of protecting the health of not only workers, but the general public as well. The policy statement reports that a lack of earned sick days contributes to the spread of infectious disease and is an obstacle to preventive care. As an example, it cites the CDC estimate that infected employees who reported to work during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 caused the infection of an additional seven million people and 1,500 deaths.

The policy statement also addresses the need for paid and unpaid family leave policies. One important aspect of paid leave is the ability to take leave following the birth or adoption of a child, which has many public health benefits. The statement notes some of the well-researched benefits of maternity leave, including reducing cesarean deliveries and prolonging gestation, more well-baby visits, decreased infant mortality, longer periods of breastfeeding, and improved mental health of new mothers.

Furthermore, Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the APHA has testified to the benefits that paid leave can provide to businesses. "Sick workers are not productive ones and by spreading disease in the workplace risk the overall productivity of the business," he stated. "By providing paid leave for sick workers, worker safety and business productivity can both be enhanced - a win-win for employers."

In order to address these critical public health issues, APHA has recommended a number of action steps. The policy statement urges Congress to extend the Family and Medical Leave Act; pass a federal paid sick leave law; and to create a system, such as publicly administered leave insurance, that allows all workers access to paid family leave. In the absence of national policies, the statement expresses support for proposed state and local laws that provide paid leave.

The endorsement of an organization as influential as APHA is an important step forward in the fight for earned sick days and paid family and medical leave. Recognizing that paid leave is not only essential for workers and their families but also is valuable for our communities is a critical and often missed aspect of making the case for paid leave. The momentum for paid leave is continuing to build, and active support from  the public health community is an invaluable asset to the movement. 

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