Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Proposed federal rules another step toward paid sick days for all

sick kid with thermometerThe federal Department of Labor is moving closer to implementing President Obama’s Executive Order establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors. With national paid sick days legislation (the Healthy Families Act) bottled up in the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s an important step along the path to ensuring everyone has paid sick days on the job.

Paid sick leave is the responsible way to prevent the spread of the disease in workplaces and schools. Without paid leave standards in place, four in ten workers do not have access to a single day of paid sick leave.[i] As a result, workers are forced to choose between going to work sick or when a child is sick, or losing needed family income. Lower income workers and their children especially suffer from poorer health and greater economic insecurity without sick leave standards in place.[ii]  Workers with sick leave are also more productive, with fewer workplace accidents, higher morale, and less turnover, all of which help businesses stay healthier, too.[iii]

The federal government should do everything in its power to encourage adequate paid sick leave for all employees, including using the power of the purse and requiring that all contractors provide sufficient paid sick days to protect worker health and safety, public health, and family economic security.

The Economic Opportunity Institute has helped found and lead coalitions that successfully advocated for paid sick and safe days legislation in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. We have also led the Washington Work and Family Coalition in its efforts to pass a Washington state sick leave law, including helping draft paid sick and safe leave language included in proposed Initiative 1433.

Since Seattle’s sick and safe leave law went into effect in 2012, the city’s economy has boomed, with stronger job and business growth than in surrounding cities and the nation as a whole. We know from a growing body of evidence from cities and states with paid sick leave laws in place that requiring employers to provide paid sick days significantly increases access, especially for low- and moderate-wage workers, without the negative impacts on jobs and profitability that opponents have projected.[iv] Increases in morale and productivity, and declines in costly turnover, spread of disease in the workplace, and workplace accidents, explain how employers can provide paid sick leave with minimal impact on business costs.[v]

The evidence that sick leave requirements are fully compatible with a thriving economy and business success is as strong – or stronger – in San Francisco and Seattle, which require seven to nine days of sick leave for the majority of employees, as it is in jurisdictions that have established lower minimum standards.

To adequately protect public health, seven days is the minimum standard to consider for sick and safe leave requirements. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such common and highly contagious diseases as the flu and Norovirus are contagious for 7 days or more.[vi] Parents and others with family care responsibilities need enough leave to stay home when sick themselves and still have sufficient leave stay home with a sick child and to take children and elderly parents in for routine medical care.

The inclusion of safe leave is also important. Financial security is key to victims of domestic and other forms of violence being able to escape their abuser and gain safety and justice.

Allowing unused leave to carry forward, and providing a reinstatement of leave as the proposed rules provide, are important policies to help ensure that most workers have leave available when they really need it.

Strong anti-retaliation provisions are also important. We have heard testimony from workers across many sectors about the detrimental impacts of attendance control policies that punish or terminate workers who have too many absences, no matter the cause. These attendance control policies strongly discourage workers from ever calling in sick, even when they have accrued sick leave available and have a contagious disease or a sick child.

We commend the important step forward that these proposed rules represent.

NOTE: Public comments on the proposed federal rules can be submitted to the Department of Labor until 11:59 pm April 12, 2016.

[i] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits Survey, Table 32. Leave benefits: Access, civilian workers, National Compensation Survey, March 2015.

[ii] Clemans-Cope, et al, “Access to and Use of Paid Sick Leave Among Low-Income Families with Children,” Pediatrics, vol 122, Number 2, August 2008, American Academy of Pediatrics,; Kaiser Family Foundation, “Balancing on Shaky Ground,” 2013 Women’s Health Survey,

[iii] Asfaw et al, “Paid Sick Leave and Nonfatal Occupational Injuries,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 102, No. 9, September 2012: 59-64;” Christine Siegwarth Meyer, et al, “Work-Family Benefits: Which Ones Maximize Profits?” Journal of Managerial Issues, vol. XIII, No. 1, Spring 2001: 28-44; Baughman et al, (2003) “Productivity and wage effects of ‘family-friendly’ fringe benefits”, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 24 Iss: 3, pp.247 – 259; Borstorff and Marker, “Turnover Drivers and Retention Factors Affecting Hourly Workers: What is Important” Management Review: An International Journal¸ Vol 2, No.1, June 30, 2007, pp. 14-27.

[iv] District of Columbia Auditor, “Audit of the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008,” 2013,; John Petro, “Paid Sick Leave Does Not Harm Employment,” Drum Major Institute, March 2010,; Lovell and Miller, “Job Growth Strong with Paid Sick Days,” October 2008, Institute for Women’s Policy Research,; Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees,” Drago and Lovell, February 2011,; “Implementation and Early Outcomes of the City of Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance,” Romich et al, University of Washington, for the Seattle City Auditor, April 2014,; Appelbaum, et al, “Good for Business?: Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Law,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2014,

[v] Paul Hemp, Presenteeism: At Work – But Out of It,” Harvard Business Review, Oct 2004,; Goetzel, et al,  “Health, Absence, Disability, and Presenteeism Cost Estimates of Certain Physical and Mental Health Conditions Affecting U.S. Employers,” American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 2004,

[vi] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “How Flu Spreads,” viewed March 18, 2016,; “Norovirus Transmission,” viewed March 18,2016,

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