Forty-four million Americans lack the ability to take paid sick leave at their jobs, many of them from Florida. A large percentage of these people are also unable to enjoy the protections provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, also, because small employers are not required to participate. Part-time workers have long been unable to take sick days because they cannot afford to lose their wages. Some even fear that they might lose their jobs if they stay home with a cold. Now, a number of states are improving employee rights by mandating paid sick leave, especially for workers in the food service and hospitality industries.
Mandatory paid sick leave is an increasingly popular issue on many states’ legislative dockets. Regions of Connecticut, Washington and California already require employers to provide a certain number of paid sick days for all workers, with only the smallest workplaces currently exempt. In Florida, however, lawmakers have passed a bill prohibiting municipalities from passing their own city-based sick leave policies, a move that has enraged employee rights’ groups.
Low-wage workers are among the most vulnerable populations. These employees generally work in industries with high interpersonal interaction, including food service, daycare and hospitality. When those workers are sick, they put all of their customers and coworkers at risk; in essence, sick leave is now becoming a public health issue. Paid leave could not only prevent the general public from experiencing the rapid spread of contagious diseases; it could also help employers retain their workers for longer periods of time.
The debate about paid sick leave is likely to be a drawn-out argument, especially considering the needs of small-business owners. Still, surveys have indicated that fewer than 20 percent of businesses report losing profits after instituting paid sick leave policies. American employees deserve paid sick leave so they can care for their children and prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Source: The Telegram, “Coughing cooks stay home as states require paid sick leave,” Esme E. Deprez, March 22, 2013