Engaging with…Earned Sick Leave

By Brad O’Neil

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee a minimum amount of earned sick leave, vacation leave, or parental leave to its citizens. That’s right, we’re the only country where you’re on your own if you or your family gets sick and you can’t make it to work.

Nationally, nearly four in 10 private sector workers – and eight in 10 low-wage workers – don’t have a single earned sick day to recover from illnesses or take care of a sick loved one. And in Michigan, more than 1.5 million workers, about 46 percent of the state’s private sector workforce, are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill.

As a result, parents are often faced with the choice of paying the bills or taking care of themselves or a sick family member. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, about 43.5 million workers show up to work sick in order to avoid being shorted wages. When one person is forced to go in to work sick, we are all impacted. Parents without paid sick leave, for example, are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick leave to send a sick child to school or day care.

Regardless of such sobering statistics, there are those that virtually deny that human beings get sick and argue that requiring a minimum amount of earned sick leave is unnecessary. But we know that’s not true, we all get sick, and research has shown that when workers don’t have to live in fear of losing pay or getting fired to take care of themselves or their families businesses prosper and the overall health and productivity of workers is improved.

Some progress has been made, including President Obama’s recent memorandum directing agencies to allow federal employees to take six weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or sick family member. But we can and should do more to ensure that all workers have access to earned sick leave – and a majority of Michiganders agree. A recent poll by Denno Research found that 86 percent of Michiganders support policies that would allow all employees to take time off work to get healthy or to care of a sick loved one without being shorted pay.

All workers should have the opportunity to earn paid sick leave. It’s time to end the conflict between taking care yourself or your family and earning a living because backing American workers into a corner benefits no one.

Michigan citizens, elected officials, and workers’ rights advocates have launched a coalition that will push for the Michigan Legislature to pass a law giving workers the right to earn paid sick leave. You can do your part by calling or writing your local legislator today.