The United States is one of the only advanced economies that does not have a national policy that guarantees pay for workers who take time to recuperate from illness. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees of covered employers are entitled to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a serious health condition. However, only 56 percent of workers qualify for such benefit. Currently, 15 states and DC, 19 cities, and three counties have passed laws requiring eligible workers to get paid time off to care for themselves or sick children. No such protection exists at the national level.

Who has Access to Paid Sick Days?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics78 percent of civilian workers have access to paid sick leave. While 91 percent of workers in state and local government have access, only three-fourths (75 percent) of workers in private industries do. Access to such paid sick time varies by occupation, size of the employer, geography, gender, and race and ethnicity.  Ninety- two percent of works in the top quarter of earnings (hourly wage of $32.21 or more) have access to paid sick leave, compared to less than a third (31 percent) of works earning hourly wages of 10.80 dollars or less, majority of them Black and Hispanic women, have access to paid sick days.

What are the Benefits of Paid Sick Days?

The economic and public health benefits of paid sick days coverages are substantial, including the reduced spread of illness, the improvement of workers’ productivity, and an increase in employees’ retention. In addition, access to paid sick days has a huge benefit for working women and mothers, as nearly 40 percent of mothers report being solely responsible for staying home with sick children compared with only three percent of fathers.

What National Policies Currently Exist?

The Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires many employers to provide employees with paid sick leave for the specified reasons related to COVID-19. Research estimates between mid-Mach and the end of May, coverage under FFCRA prevented an average of 400 cases of COVID-19 per day in each state. However, the specific requirement of FFCRA based on the employers’ size and the type of work workers’ do, left millions of workers out of coverage. In addition, the benefit under is FFCRA is set to expire on December 31, 2020.

The ongoing spread of the COVID pandemic, now more than ever, makes it evident that we need a national guarantee of permanent paid sick days laws to support the health and economic security of workers and their families.