As we celebrate the recent Supreme Court victories, it is important to remember that there is still much work to be done. Every year, 43 million American workers are losing wages and sometimes even their jobs if illness strikes and they need to care for themselves or a family member. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families are disproportionately affected. Despite the recent expansion of marriage equality at the state and federal level, many LGBT families are in limbo with regard to the legal relationships between children and their parents. 39 states maintain some barrier to LGBT parents creating legal relationships with their children. Only 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In all other jurisdictions, LGBT Americans must be wary of taking sick leave, worried their employer might use that as the “final straw” to fire them. This worry is compounded by race. Over 40% of African Americans and over half of Latinos lack access to paid sick days.
The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from short-term illnesses, access preventative care, care for a sick family member (defined in a broad and LGBT-friendly way), or seek assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Paid sick leave is public health issue. People in the service industry lack paid sick leave more often than not. This leads to sick workers coming to work and spreading illness to their coworkers and the people they serve. 75% of those working in the food industry do not have paid sick days and, unsurprisingly, two thirds of food workers admit to having served or cooked food while ill. “Presenteeism,” or the practice of coming to work while ill, is estimated to cost businesses as much at $180 million per year, more than absenteeism and short term disability. Workers with paid sick days are also 28% less likely to be injured on the job than those without paid sick days.
Allowing paid sick leave will save money in the long run. Workers who take time off to recover from illness recover faster and are able to come back to work sooner. They will not need to seek after-hours treatment at emergency rooms, avoiding an estimated 1.3 million visits annually and saving taxpayers roughly $1.1 billion.
There is a lot of momentum for the Healthy Families Act right now due to progress at the local level. The Rhode Island Senate just passed the Temporary Caregiver Insurance Act on June 27th (more information here). On the same day, the New York City Council passed paid sick leave over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto, joining San Francisco, Portland and Seattle as the 4th city to offer mandatory paid sick leave. Oregon also recently passed Bereavement Leave and the Safe Leave Act this session, though it failed to pass state-wide paid sick leave. Fourteen million Americans now live in areas with local paid sick leave laws, but there are another 300 million who do not. Just two weeks ago, Florida passed a law barring local governments within the state from establishing paid sick day standards. Now is the time for federal standards for paid sick leave.