Research Shows Paid Sick Days are a Workplace Necessity

(Augusta, ME) The Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) released today Paid Sick Days are a Workplace Necessity.  This report is produced with help from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Paid sick days are a fundamental need for working people.  Many of us take this for granted but the reality is that only about half of Maine workers enjoy the benefit.  These workers tend to be low-income workers – more often women – who are least able to meet basic needs if they lose wages or employment due to illness.  Paid sick time also benefits employers.  It saves money by reducing the spread of infectious diseases that would otherwise hurt productivity and may result in employee turnover.

Research shows that on average, employed adults miss 4.6 days of work each year due to illness.  Those who have paid sick days miss an average of 3.9 days a year.  Individual workers vary considerably in their need for paid sick days.  Half of those with sick paid days don’t take any time off.  Those with chronic illnesses or medical emergencies need more than one week in some years.  School age children will miss on average 3 days a year while younger children will be sick more often.  This means additional lost work days for parents without child care or where child care centers require sick children to stay at home.

“Presenteeism” – or going to work sick – has negative public health implications that can spread beyond a single worksite.  Some employees believe they are helping their employers by showing up sick while others without a paid sick leave option come in due to fear of lost wages or employment.  This spreads contagious diseases and can result in an increase of employee absences.  Forty percent of workers report having contracted the flu from a colleague.  They return at half productivity and drive up overall health costs.    

Employers who do not provide paid sick days see their costs go up.  Replacing workers, even in the low-wage market, is very expensive.   Bringing a new worker to full productivity can cost as much as 43% of annual pay.  A more general rubric is the cost to an employer is 25% of total yearly compensation (including the cost of benefits).  Other research shows that this cost outweighs the cost of having the employee absent while providing health and disability benefits.  Overall paid sick leave days can lead to cost savings by cutting down on absenteeism, turnover, and lost productivity.

In Maine, LD 1554, “An Act to Care for Working Families,” sponsored by Rep. Norton would require employers with 25 or more employees to allow their workers to earn 1 hour of sick paid leave for every 30 hours worked.  This would go a long way in supporting children’s health by allowing parents to attend to their illnesses in a timely fashion.  This will also help our senior population by allowing their children the time to attend to their health issues.  This need will only increase as Maine’s population continues to age.  This will help Maine’s working poor who already have a difficult time making ends meet when they are healthy.  One survey reported that 34% of parents reported caring for sick children led to difficulties at work; 12% said it led to lost pay; and 13 % said it led to loss of promotions or jobs.  Maine can benefit by being a leader, with family-friendly policies that allow working people to do the right thing for themselves, their families, and the greater public while on the job.

For the complete report: