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Family Leave & Paid Sick Days

About Family Leave & Paid Sick Days

For American workers, a good job has many defining characteristics: a fair wage or salary, health care benefits, a safe work environment, and the ability to take time off work when needed without losing pay. IWPR studies several types of  paid time off from work:

  1. Paid sick leave, usable by employees with little or no advance notice, to recuperate from illness, seek medical care, or care for family members; and,
  2. Longer-term leave such as family and medical leave, parental leave, and disability leave, taken by fewer employees but for longer periods.

More than forty percent of private sector workers in the United States have no access to paid sick days (PSD). Paid sick days legislation, which would require businesses to provide leave when workers or their children are ill, has been introduced each year since 2005 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. PSD is also the focus of several campaigns around the country at the local, state, and federal levels.

In a 2009 briefing paper, IWPR reported that employees who attended work while infected with H1N1 are estimated to have caused the infection of as many as 7 million co-workers (according to data compiled by IWPR from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Public opinion tends to support PSD policies as demonstrated by a 2010 survey by IWPR. The survey of registered voters, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, found that more than two-thirds of registered voters (69 percent) endorse laws to provide paid sick days.

Three out of four (76 percent) endorse laws to provide paid leave for family care and childbirth—81 percent of women and 71 percent of men.

IWPR conducts research on the impacts of both paid sick leave and longer-term leave, including the costs of implementing leave systems or passing paid sick time laws, as well as the anticipated benefits for workers, employers, and the public of expanding access to leave.

IWPR produces reports, memoranda, and testimony regarding the impacts of proposed paid leave laws or to inform policymakers, business leaders, and advocates. In 2010, IWPR staff members testified on paid sick leave before the House Labor Committee of the Illinois General Assembly, the Labor Relations Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and the New York City Council. IWPR also submitted a technical memorandum to the Maine Legislature.


San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees | Report

Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption Leave in the United States | Briefing Paper

The Need for Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees: Adapting to a Changing Workforce | Report

Visit our external resources page for links to more information on this topic.To see our experts on this and other initiatives, click here.

Latest Reports from IWPR

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Expanded Sick Leave Would Yield Substantial Benefits to Business, Employers, and Families
by Vicky Lovell, Barbara Gault and Heidi Hartmann (June 2004)

#B243, 3 pages

No Time To Be Sick: Why Everyone Suffers When Workers Don’t have Paid Sick Leave
by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (June 2004)

Expansion of paid sick leave and integration of family caregiving activities into authorized uses of paid sick leave are crucial work and health supports for workers, their families, employers, and our communities at large.

#B242, 27 pages

The Fiscal Viability of New Jersey Family Leave Insurance
by Michelle Naples and Meryl Frank (December 2001)

The private needs of the family are now at the forefront of the national political agenda as a result of changes in the workforce and in family demographics. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is the cornerstone of the family policy movement. This act allows an unpaid leave of absence for employed family members who need to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or a seriously ill relative. Its benefits to working families are well documented (US DOL 1996; Cantor et al. 2000).


Family Leave for Low-Income Working Women: Providing Paid Leave through Temporary Disability Insurance, The New Jersey Case
by Michele I. Naples (October 2001)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provided for unpaid time off from work to care for sick relatives or a newborn or adopted child, guaranteeing leave-takers’ jobs when they returned to work. Low-wage workers and single parents, however, cannot fully benefit from the FMLA because it offers no replacement income. In families that depend on women’s earnings to maintain living standards, unpaid time off from work threatens family finances that are already strained by the costs of bearing and providing for a new child, or the costs of health care for a sick family member. To ensure that those most in need of the protections of the FMLA can take advantage of the law, New Jersey is one among several states considering legislation to provide Family-Leave Insurance (FLI): paid leave to care for newborn babies and adopted children (BAA), and paid family-disability leave (FDL) to care for an ill child, spouse, or elderly parent. This Research-in-Brief summarizes a research project conducted by Michele I. Naples and Meryl Frank that examined proposals in New Jersey for paid family and medical leave programs. It discusses the policy context in which these programs are being considered and details the technical considerations behind estimating the cost of providing family leave insurance.


The Widening Gap: A New Book on the Struggle to Balance Work and Caregiving
by Hedieh Rahmanou (September 2001)

This Research-in-Brief is based on selected findings from a new book by Jody Heymann, Director of Policy at the Harvard Center for Society and Health. Published by Basic Books in 2000, The Widening Gap: Why America’s Working Families are in Jeopardy and What Can Be Done About It reveals the failure of our nation’s employer-based support system to help families meet their caregiving responsibilities. Copyright permission was granted by Perseus Books LLC.


Paid Family and Medical Leave: Supporting Working Families in Illinois
by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (September 2000)

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Providing Paid Family Leave: Estimating the Cost of Expanding California's Disability Insurance Program
by Stephanie Aaronson (June 1995)

Testimony before the U.S. Comission on Family and Medical Leave, San Francisco, CA. Estimates teh cost of expanding California's Temporary Disability INsurance Program and examines the feasibility of using the temporary disability insurance model to provide paid family leave to workers. Argues that paid family and medical elave is economically feasible.

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Science and Politics and the "Dual Vision" of Feminist Policy Research: The Example of Family and Medical Leave
by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (September 1991)

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Unnecessary Losses:Costs to Americans for the Lack of Family and Medical Leave
by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (May 1991)

Unnecessary Losses concludes that the costs to workers and taxpayers of the current lack of national policy are many times greater than the cost to business of having a national policy. Having a national leave policy would reduce the costs to workers and society of the socially necessary tasks of childbirth, child care and eldercare, or of illness, because having the right to return to their jobs would reduce unemployment and earnings losses for workers who must be absent for these reasons.


Unnecessary Losses to African American Workers
by (April 1990)

When a person temporarily leaves their employment because of the arrival of a child, illness of a family member, or her or his own illness, economic costs arise for three groups: workers, employers, and society. Workers in the U.S. lose enormous amounts in earnings from absence due to illness and family care-- an estimated $100 billion annually. Of these losses, at least $12 billion can be attributed to the lack of job protected leave. In addition, there are substantial outlays by taxpayers for unemployment compensation, welfare payments, Supplemental Security Income, etc. when workers do not have the right to return to their jobs-- an estimated $4.3 billion.

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Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans in the States of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave
by (August 1989)

Despite widespread agreement that employment policies should be responsive to the needs of working families, Congress is currently engaged in debate about a national leave policy that would require minimum protections against job loss because of family and medical needs. The proposed policy would provide protections against job loss if a worker takes a short, unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a seriously ill child or parent, or the worker's own illness. Although some businesses object the the cost of a national policy, the cost to workers, and to society at large, of not having such a policy is often overlooked.

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Costs to Women and Their Families of Childbirth and Lack of Parental Leave
by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann (October 1987)

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs and Alcoholism, Committee on Labor and Human Resources, U.S., using figures and charts from IWPR's study Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave.

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