Unlike most nations in the industrialized world, the United States does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick leave. Some employees are eligible for unpaid time off to care for their own or a close family member’s “serious health condition” under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But more than 50 million workers in this country still have no access to paid sick days. Two recent IWPR-IMPAQ International studies show that national paid sick leave would disproportionately benefit women and low-paid workers – without significantly increasing employers’ costs.

When it comes to paid sick leave, the United States remains an outlier among its economic and social peers. More than three in ten workers in this country have no access to paid sick leave of any kind. Although women and men overall are about equally likely to have paid sick days, women with children suffer disproportionately from lack of access: Nearly 40 percent of mothers say they are solely responsible for staying home from work with sick children, compared with only 3 percent of fathers.

Over the past decade, seven states and more than 30 other jurisdictions have enacted paid leave policies. At the federal level, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced the Healthy Families Act to guarantee up to seven paid sick days for those who work for employers with more than 15 employees. Using a simulation model developed by IWPR with economists Randy Albelda and Alan Clayton-Matthews, IWPR-IMPAQ recently analyzed the effect that the Healthy Families Act as well as two other policy models would have if implemented nationwide. The result? Under all three models:

  • Women would benefit proportionally more than men.
  • Workers of color would be helped more than whites.
  • Those who earn the least – under $25,000 a year — would gain the most.
  • Service workers, farmworkers, and military employees would benefit more than those who work in other occupations.

Paid sick leave would not break the bank for employers. Another recent IWPR-IMPAQ study found that a national paid sick leave policy would cost employers less than one-third of one percent of payroll. This is because the average worker takes very few days off due to illness or injury.

The benefits to employers, on the other hand, are significant: improved productivity, fewer workplace injuries, reduced spread of illness on the job, and less turnover. Employees and their families would gain more stable income and improved employment security. Public health benefits would include reduced contagion, fewer on-the-job injuries, more timely treatment for illnesses, increased use of preventive care, and improved family health.

The many substantial benefits of paid sick leave far outweigh the relatively small costs to employers.

Read more in a series of briefing papers (1 and 2) from IWPR and IMPAQ International on paid sick days. Visit IWPR’s library of state, local, and national-level research on access paid sick days and the benefits of these policies.