Family Values @ Work

New Study Underscores Support, Need for Paid Sick Days

June 21, 2010

Ask Manuel Acevedo what it means not to have job-guaranteed paid sick days and he’ll tell you: it hurts individual health, it hurts the public, and it costs jobs.

Manuel drove a van for elderly and disabled passengers in Boston, MA, so they could get to doctor appointments or the grocery store. He loved his job. He also had a heart problem that sometimes caused palpitations. His doctor told him not to drive when that happened – it could be dangerous for Manuel and for his passengers. The job provided some paid sick days, but not enough. And for each one Manuel took, he got written up and suspended, and eventually he was fired.

A new study by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago demonstrates that Manuel is not alone. Nearly one in four workers without paid sick days (23%) has lost a job or been told they would lose it for taking time to care for a sick family member or a personal illness.

Lack of paid sick days also hurts public health. More than half of all workers without paid sick days (55%) have gone to work sick. And workers without paid sick days are nearly twice as likely as those with paid sick days to say they’ve sent their child to school or daycare sick.

The NORC study also confirmed that lack of access to paid sick days drives up health care costs.

Workers without access to paid sick days are twice as likely as those with access to say they have gone to the emergency room to get care for themselves because they couldn’t take time off work to get medical care. When it comes to kids or other family members, workers without paid sick days are two-and-a-half times as likely to say they used an emergency room because they couldn’t get off during business hours.

What did it cost Manuel Acevedo to lose his job? He couldn’t pay his rent and was evicted. He had to sell his car and furniture, and move with his family to a smaller place.

In a time when jobs are scarce, people strongly support a job preservation strategy like paid sick days. According to Deborah Leff, head of the Public Welfare Foundation which commissioned the NORC poll,

“a strong majority of people across every racial group, every income level, every age group, every part of the country, and both political parties see paid sick days as a basic worker’s right, just like being paid a decent wage.”

And voters said this is an issue they’ll take to the polls. By a margin of 33 points, voters said they were more likely to support a candidate who favored paid sick days.

For the full study, go to



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