All employees must have paid sick time
America is woefully behind when it comes to guaranteeing workers the benefits they deserve. As one example, America is the only modern nation that fails to guarantee its workers paid sick time. In fact, 184 nations guarantee workers paid sick time, but not America. According to the Economic Policy Institute, only 64% of private-sector American workers have paid sick time.
Lower-income workers are much less likely to have paid sick time than higher earners. Per the EPI, amongst the top 10% of earners, 87% have paid sick time, while the same is true for just 27% of the bottom 10% of earners. Women are less likely to have paid sick time, which is especially troubling when, per the Delaware Office of Women’s Advancement & Advocacy, 82% of Black mothers, 58% of white mothers, and 56% of Hispanic mothers are key family breadwinners. Other workers more likely to lack paid sick time include people of color, caregivers, military spouses and seniors working during retirement.
Workers’ lack of sick time presents a serious public health issue. Many of our frontline essential workers not only make the least money but often have little or no paid leave. These employees come into contact with people, food and products frequently on a daily basis – like retail workers, grocery store employees and restaurant workers. For the good of public health, sick workers should stay home to prevent the spread of disease and illness.
Many employees understandably report to work ill because they cannot afford to lose the income. Per a 2015 study by Norton and others, almost half of all restaurant-related food-borne illness outbreaks are attributed to sick employees. Per a 2016 National Partnership for Women & Families study, 70% of women in the fast-food industry reported going to work in the last year despite displaying symptoms of illness, including coughing, sneezing, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.
I have introduced House Bill 409, which will require Delaware employers to offer employees sick time. The legislation is modeled after that of 14 other states and Washington, D.C. HB 409 considers the needs of businesses, including caps on accrued hours; requiring that workers be employed at least 90 days before using accrued time; and allowing smaller businesses to offer unpaid job-protected hours. Employees may also use sick time for “safety leave” to cope with or escape domestic violence situations.
Guaranteed sick time is good not just for employees, but also for businesses. States that have passed similar legislation have shown high support from employers and no negative economic effects as a result. Employers granting employees sick time report higher job satisfaction, loyalty, productivity and morale. Smaller businesses offering sick time better allows those businesses to attract and retain quality employees. Sick time allows employees to stay home when they are sick, preventing the spread of illness and lost productivity in workplaces.
It is time for Delaware to join the 184 other nations, 14 American states, and Washington, D.C., in guaranteeing workers sick time.