America is in the middle of what is projected to become the worst flu epidemic in a decade, and across the country workers risk making it worse by going to their jobs while sick. They do so because American workers have little access to paid sick leave, but some cities are considering enshrining such leave into law.
City councils in Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are both considering new paid sick leave laws. Under the Portland proposal, all businesses would have to grant workers at least 40 hours of sick leave each year; for businesses with more than six employees, that leave time would be paid. A report from the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, which supports paid sick leave, said business expenses would grow at most by 1.9 percent under the law.
In Philadelphia, where a paid sick leave law was passed in 2011 but was vetoed by the mayor, lawmakers are making another attempt. The bill is backed by local restaurant workers, thousands of whom go to work while sick each day. Nearly 80 percent of food workers do not have paid sick leave, and 60 percent say they have reported to work while sick. A majority of Americans support providing paid sick leave to food workers.
The lack of paid sick leave is its own epidemic in the United States, where 40 percent of private sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers don’t receive a single paid sick day. Lack of paid sick leave led to an additional 5 million cases of the H1N1 flu virus in 2009.
And though business leaders in Portland and Philadelphia oppose the laws, perhaps they shouldn’t. Research suggests that paid sick leave reduces employee turnover and increases productivity, meaning providing it to employees has substantial benefits for the companies’ bottom lines too.