Who can — and who can’t — stay home with the flu?

As fears of a swine flu pandemic spread, President Obama and public health officials are urging Americans to stay home from work and keep their children home from school if they have flu symptoms. That is sound advice — but nearly 4 in 10 private sector workers lack even one paid sick day, and many more face disciplinary action if they do call in sick.

Nationally, two-thirds of women below 200% of the federal poverty level don’t get paid when they miss work to care for a sick child. In Washington State, the percentage of firms providing paid sick leave in Washington has declined since 2002. Very few companies provide paid leave benefits to part-time workers.

So who can’t stay home with the flu in Washington?

  • More than 1 million workers won’t get paid if they stay home sick.
  • Most workers who handle food and meet the public have no paid leave.
  • Women are less likely to have sick leave, because they are concentrated in the jobs least likely to provide it, and they more often work part time.
  • Low-income parents are particularly unlikely to have paid leave.

And who can stay home with the flu?

San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. have adopted new workplace standards that require all employers to provide a few paid sick days a year – just like all employers must pay minimum wage and follow health and safety codes.

Sick days are popular with voters. San Francisco’s ordinance was adopted by initiative in November 2006 with over 60% of the vote. Milwaukee voters approved their sick days law by an even higher margin – 69% – in November 2008.

San Francisco’s provisions include:

  • Employees accrue 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked after 90 days on the job.
  • Employees in companies with fewer than 10 employees can accrue up to 40 hours of sick leave (5 full-time days).
  • Workers in larger companies can accrue up to 72 hours (9 full-time days).

New York may become the next major city to adopt paid sick days — and Congress and at least 13 states are considering adopting minimum paid sick leave standards in 2009.

In a world where diseases mutate and spread across the globe in weeks, Americans need paid sick days to protect our health and our economy.

Read more in EOI’s latest policy brief: Who can stay home with the flu?

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