New Survey Shows Widespread Support for Paid Sick Days

From the Public News Service:

SEATTLE – More than half the people questioned in a new national survey said they’ve either gone to work with a contagious illness or sent their kids to school or child care sick, because they didn’t have paid sick leave and couldn’t afford to stay home.

The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that 86 percent of people surveyed think workers should be able to earn a minimum of seven paid sick days per year. Senior fellow and survey director Tom Smith says employers have several ways to minimize paid time off for illness.

“We found that many workers have only a very restricted or limited version [ of paid sick days]. They may not be able to use it for family members, or they may have only a few days of paid time off, which has to cover not only sick days, but vacations, jury duty, etc.”

According to Smith, a majority of both Republicans (59 percent) and Democrats (89 percent) said they’d support paid sick days as a federal policy. Congress is considering this as part of the Healthy Americans Act, which would allow both full and part-time workers to earn sick days. Business groups who oppose the idea say it’s too expensive, especially for small companies.

In the state of Washington, 60 percent of full-time workers have no paid time off for illness, although groups in Tacoma and Seattle are pushing for local ordinances that would require employers to offer paid sick days to all workers. It’s been the law in San Francisco since 2007, and Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, says it’s working well.

“Not only is it working, but employment there remains stronger than in neighboring counties that do not guarantee paid sick days, even through this recession. And, our one-time opponents there are now actually admitting that their fears were unfounded.”

Ness says opponents of the San Francisco law were the Chamber of Commerce and the local restaurant association. Her group sees paid sick leave as a public health issue to prevent spreading disease, and to allow workers to get treatment before their illnesses are serious enough to require hospitalization.

The survey, sponsored by the nonprofit Public Welfare Foundation, is online at

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