Earned paid sick days: Good for family budgets, public health and the economy

Everyone gets sick, and everyone deserves to be able to take time to get better without worrying whether they can still make the rent.

Maine’s Legislature is currently considering a bill, LD 369, that would ensure all Mainers who work at a company with five or more employees could earn paid sick time. The bill would allow workers to accumulate one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. The Legislature should pass LD 369 so that no Mainer will have to choose between their financial security and their health or the health of their family.

A lack of paid sick days hurts family budgets and public health

Around one in three Mainers — more than 200,000 workers — lack access to even a single hour of paid sick time.[1] As a result, when these Mainers get sick, they are put in the position of choosing between their health and their income. As the group most likely to lack paid sick days, the choice is most consequential for Mainers with low incomes.[2] For someone making $12 per hour, missing a day’s wages is the equivalent of the cost of a month’s prescription medicines; missing a week’s wages is almost the entire month’s grocery budget.[3]

The wages lost to uncompensated sick time add up. By MECEP’s calculation, Mainers lose more than $115 million in lost wages from having to take unpaid sick time.[4]

National polling indicates that more than half of all restaurant and health care workers come into work while sick.[5] The lack of paid sick days is a recipe for spreading disease in our diners and hospitals.

When Mainers choose to work while sick, the choice has ripple effects beyond their own health. Public health pays the cost as well. Last year 9,000 Mainers caught the flu, with 80 people dying as a result.[6]

In states where workers do have paid sick day protections, the spread of flu is reduced by up to 20 percent.[7]

Paid sick days protect the public health. They limit the harm of sudden income losses for workers and families. They’re also good for business. Studies show that companies with paid sick days have lower rates of absenteeism, as workers care for themselves promptly preemptively, rather than prolonging their illness and spreading it to coworkers.[8]

Paid sick days would be good for our economy

Workers with access to paid sick time are also more productive,[9] less likely to have accidents on the job,[10] and stay in a job longer, reducing turnover costs for employers.[11] For the relatively small cost of a few days’ paid time off, businesses will have happier, healthier workers and a stronger workforce.

Surveys of employers in states where paid sick time laws have been enacted consistently show that business owners are largely supportive of the new law, and that many of the concerns they had initially were unfounded. Rates of fraud or abuse are low, cost increases are minimal, and implementing the new rules was not difficult.[12]

Illness is indiscriminate. Our paid sick leave policy should be too

Illness affects all of us. It is indiscriminate. For that reason, MECEP urges the committee to amend LD 369 to provide access to earned paid sick days to all Maine workers, regardless of their employer’s size. Increasing coverage to all Maine workers will benefit more families, reap greater public health benefits, and strengthen our economy and small businesses.


[1] https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/B281.pdf

[2] MECEP analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey, 2017. Data for private-sector employees nationwide. 67% of workers in the lowest wage quartile (approximately $12/hour or less) had no paid sick days.

[3] MECEP analysis of U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Consumer Expenditure Survey data for 2016. Using average monthly expenditures for a household with a total income of $40,000-49,999 (equivalent to two adults working full-time at $12 per hour). Spending was adjusted for Maine variations by comparing the U.S. and Maine per capita CES data for 2016.

[4] MECEP analysis using CPS ORG monthly data, Jan 2015-Dec 2017 3-year average. See https://www.mecep.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/State-of-Working-Maine-2018.pdf, note 4 on page 42 for a full methodology.

[5] The Workplace and Health. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio, July 2016. Available at: https://www.npr.org/documents/2016/jul/HarvardWorkplaceandHealthPollReport.pdf

[6] Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Maine Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report, October 3, 2018. Available at: http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/attach.php?id=815509&an=2.

[7] Pichler, Stefan and Nicolas R. Ziebarth. The Pros and Cons of Sick Pay Schemes: Testing for Contagious Presenteeism and Noncontagious Absenteeism Behavior. National Bureau of Economic Research: Cambridge, MA, August 6, 2016. Available at: http://www.nber.org/papers/w22530.pdf.

[8] DeRigne, LeaAnne and Patricia Stoddard-Dare and Linda Quinn. Health Affairs. “Workers Without Paid Sick Leave Less Likely to Take Time Off for Illness or Injury Compared to Those with Paid Sick Leave,” Vol. 35, No. 3, March 2016. Available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0965.

[9] Steward, Walther, et al, “Lost Productive Work Time Costs From Health Conditions in the United States: Results From the American Productivity Audit,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol 45, No 12, Dec 2003. Available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/workplace/paid-sick-days/lost-productive-work-time-american-productivity-audit.pdf

[10] Asfaw A, Pana-Cryan R, Rosa R. American Journal of Public Health. “Paid Sick Leave and Nonfatal Occupational Injuries.” Vol 102, No 9, September 2012. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/22720767.

[11] Hill, H. D. (2013 April, 9). “Paid Sick Leave and Job Stability,” Work and Occupations, 40(2), 143-173.

[12] See, for example,

Eileen Appelbaum et al., “Good for Business? Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Law,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2014. Available at  http://cepr.net/documents/good-for-buisness-2014-02-21.pdf;

Eileen Appelbaum & Ruth Milkman, “No Big Deal: The Impact of New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law on Employers,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, Sept 2016. Available at http://cepr.net/publications/reports/no-big-deal-the-impact-of-new-york-city-s-paid-sick-days-law-on-employers

Danielle Lindemann & Dana Britton, “Earned Sick Days in Jersey City: A Study of Employers and Employees at Year One,” Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University, April 2015. Available at  https://smlr.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/documents/Jersey_City_ESD_Issue_Brief.pdf

Carrie Colla et al., “Early Effects of the San Francisco Paid Sick Leave Policy,” American Journal of Public Health, Dec 2014, 104(12): 2453-2460. Available at  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4232165/

Jennifer Romlich et al., “Implementation and Early Outcomes of the City of Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance,” University of Washington, April 23, 2014. Available at  http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/CityAuditor/auditreports/PSSTOUWReportwAppendices.pdf