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?”

Hopefully more places will see that not all employees would abuse sick days in order to have a day off – and that by allowing for paid sick time, they’d actually be doing their companies good by looking at the big picture.

In this economy, more people feel lucky just to have a job, and would be willing to choose work over a family crisis because they just can’t afford it otherwise – or might get penalized for making a decision like that. This type of attitude is just unfair to me.

Nearly 16% of adults polled said that they or a family member were fired, suspended, written up, or told they would face penalties for illness-related absences. If you found out you had cancer, would you appreciate the massive consequences from your employer? Or even worse, risk losing your job over taking time off for the proper treatment? Isn’t the news of the illness devastating enough?

Have you ever been penalized for taking a sick day? We’d love to hear your opinions on this issue. And if you’d like to make a difference, consider visiting to learn more and get involved in federal and state campaigns that’ll help guarantee access to paid sick time.

Image via Shutterstock

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