The United States does not guarantee workers paid sick leave, and over 40 percent of private sector workers do not have access to this important benefit. Many employees, especially low-wage earners, struggle to find a balance between taking care of themselves and their families during times of need and not losing essential pay used to make ends meet. Oftentimes, employees fear losing their jobs for taking necessary time away from work.
According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the term "sick leave" encompasses two separate types of absences. Short-term illnesses, such as a cold or flu, require a small amount of time for the employee or family member to get well enough to return to the workplace. Long-term leave, a less common absence, includes family, medical, disability and parental leave, and occurs over a longer period of time.
A full 79 percent of low-wage earners, especially those employed in part-time work in the food and hospitality industries, do not have paid sick leave. In general, 77 percent of U.S. citizens believe that paid sick leave is an important entitlement for all workers, though only 60 percent have this benefit.
Sick leave, whether paid or unpaid, is important for many reasons. Employees able to take adequate time off to recuperate tend to recover faster and are ultimately healthier and more productive, per the National Partnership for Women and Families. Companies also benefit from providing paid sick leave. Aside from slowing the spread of infectious diseases within the workplace, companies experience a cost savings from increased worker productivity and stability, as well as lower health care costs. Interestingly, emergency visits are twice as likely to happen if a worker cannot access medical care during normal business hours due to work constraints. This ultimately drives up health costs for both the company and employee.
As of 2015, the United States does not have any laws requiring paid sick leave. Employees of companies with over 50 employees may be eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually under the Family Medical Leave Act. This benefit is limited to larger workplaces and covers maternity, adoption, care of a sick family member or a serious health condition of the employee. Legislators have been working hard since 2005 to enact a law mandating a nationwide standard for paid sick leave. The Healthy Families Act, which has been debated by Congress since 2009, would provide a baseline number of paid sick days for all employees in the United States. If this law were to be enacted, over 90 percent of the workforce throughout the country would be eligible to earn sick days.
All companies must work to accommodate the needs of employees in order to retain a competent and dedicated workforce. Employees that are granted sick leave, especially if it is paid, have time to heal themselves and/or care for ailing family members without the financial worry. Though U.S. law protects some citizens needing unpaid long-term leave, more work must be done on both a public and private level to guarantee leave for short-term illnesses.
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