The Importance Of Having A Paid Sick Day

Getting a job is a very exciting thing – so exciting that you might be thinking solely of the salary and not enough about the benefits. Here’s a scary fact: According to the Labor Project for Working Families, nearly 42% of all U.S workers do not earn any paid sick leave and 80% of the lowest paid workers don’t get a single paid sick day.

I used to feel terrible about taking a sick day – but in reality, a day to recover isn’t a free pass to skip work and watch daytime game shows (Family Feud hosted by Steve Harvey? I’m talking about you.) A day to recover will help my coworkers avoid me at my most contagious. Otherwise, my flu will become their flu, which will become their family’s flu. So in general, if I decide I’m going to go in sick, I could ruin a coworker’s vacation. Or take a few days of education away from their children. But at the same time, if I didn’t have paid sick time, I could be struggling with rent that month. When I start a family, it’d be much more financially terrifying. It’s a no-win situation if you have very few options.

Although no federal law currently exists, efforts to establish a national paid sick days policy are starting to gain some steam. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC have started adopting local laws that will guarantee paid sick days. Certain workers in Connecticut are also on a system where sick days are earned, and job-protected (which means, you won’t be fired or suspended for being out of the office.)

Sick days aren’t the only benefits some employees are without. For example – do you know how expensive children are? Even with some insurance, hospital bills can be through the roof, and many places don’t offer any kind of paid time off during maternity leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a federal law that applies to employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and elementary schools. Eligible employees are typically entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 work weeks in a 12-month period for maternity leave, the placement and care of an adopted or foster child, and the serious health condition of the employee or a spouse, child, or parent. Certain states have passed their own laws to include a bit more wiggle room, which will give a looser definition of “family”. Even though it’s nice to know you’ll have a job after your family crisis or welcoming of a new child, it’s still a blow to your bank account, especially with new expenses cropping up.

The National Partnership for Women & Families is making it their business to support paid sick leaves. According to them, nearly one-quarter of adults said they have lost a job or been threatened with job loss for taking a sick day. Their mission is to promote public policies and business practices that expand opportunities for women, and help support the well being and health of families worldwide.

Personally, I was only forced to come into work while sick once. My first job was at CVS when I was sixteen, and while it was just a summer job, I aimed to please. I liked the environment, loved my coworkers, and it was a pretty stellar summer. But, one day I had a pretty intense cold. It was the kind of cold that drained you, and made standing up straight a difficult task to master. It was also the first time I ever called out sick.

About fifteen minutes after the call – right before I changed into my pajamas and called it a day – they called me back. It turns out they were understaffed that day, and really needed me to be there.

Reluctantly, I said okay. And all I remember that day was being woozy and restocking vitamins, having coworkers ask me in 15-minute increments if I was “really okay”, because I “didn’t look good.”

The benefit for me, was that I felt like my boss would see how hard of a worker I was. I came in, even while sick, because the business needed me. My coworkers could obviously see I didn’t call off to take some kind of Ferris Bueller joyride around the mean streets of central New Jersey. And – I got paid that day. Since I was an hourly employee, my conditions were that I got paid for when I was actually there. Under those specific conditions, I can’t imagine calling out in the first place if I actually had a family to support, and if my paychecks went towards more than “CDs” and “The Future?”

Sponsored by: AFL-CIO

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  • Theresa M. Elorriaga

    I’ve never worked anywhere that’s had paid sick days.

    Before the economy crashed I was fortunate enough to have a well paying job that didn’t leave me in dire circumstances if i had to call out while i recovered from the stomach flu; my manager’s main concern was that we were present and capable of doing our best (and looking our best, it was high end retail) while clocked in. The way he look at it was, there’s no point in wasting money on an employee being there if they’re going to be doing subpar work because of ill health, let them come back when they’re “fully charged” and at their best again. I wish at the minimum, more employers had this attitude.

    In the last year I was working at a trendy restaurant in LA and on more than one occasion was threatened with a write up if I (or other employees) called out sick. This is obviously alarming for a number of reasons, especially since as a hostess, my presence wasn’t exactly vital. Most of the time, a manager simply didn’t want to have to be the one up front covering while i was out, so opted instead to put customers and other employees at risk. It was a particularly crappy job due to management and i’m glad i no longer work there, but i think constantly about the fact that this was not only unfair to me, but seems like a violation of health codes. i know i’m not the only one that’s been in this position, i just wish it was easier for employees to fight this sort of situation.

  • Melissa Wiebe

    Even though I don’t get paid sick days at my job, I stay home when I am sick; the risk isn’t worth it.

  • Brianna Jill Soloski

    I’ve never worked anywhere with benefits of any kind, let alone paid sick time. I pay my own health insurance and have no other benefits. If I’m sick, I go to work or I don’t get paid. I haven’t had a day off since June 1 and could definitely use a mental health day to just lay around, read, and watch bad television, but my financial situation doesn’t allow that, so even when I don’t feel well, I head to work anyway.

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