Sick leave (or paid sick days or sick pay) is an employee benefit in the form of paid leave, which workers can use during periods of temporary sickness or to stay home and address their health and safety needs without losing pay or their jobs. In some places of employment it is a workplace policy, and in many jurisdictions it is codified into law. Some policies allow workers paid time off to attend doctor visits or to care for family members.
Paid sick days, sometimes referred to as sick leave, guarantees workers time off to stay home when they are sick without losing pay or their jobs. Some paid sick days policies also allow paid sick time to be used to care for sick family members, to attend doctor or medical appointments or to address health and safety needs related to domestic violence or sexual assault.
Nearly half of workers in the private sector (48 percent) do not have a single paid sick day to recover from illness or to care for a sick family member. As a result, they face difficult choices: lose a day's pay or even their jobs, or go to work sick and risk infecting coworkers and customers. Parents who lack paid sick days are often forced to choose between their jobs and their sick children. Nearly half (49 percent) of working mothers miss work when a child contracts a common illness.
Three in four low-wage workers (79 percent) do not have a single paid sick day. These workers are least able to afford to take unpaid time off or risk losing their jobs. They also are most likely to have jobs requiring frequent contact with the public in the restaurant, retail, child care and health care industries. Seventy-eight percent of food service and hotel workers lack paid sick days. without a basic workplace standard of paid sick days, one in six workers report being fired, disciplined or threatened with discipline or termination for taking time off for illness.
Many employers offer paid sick days to their employees on the understanding that it can reduce turnover, increase productivity and reduce the spread of contamination in the workplace.
The Centers for Disease Control asks workers to stay at home if they are sick and to keep sick kids out of school. Without paid sick day policies in place, millions of workers cannot afford to take time off without pay, or can't risk losing their jobs, so they are unable to follow the CDC instruction.
Not taking time off during illness also can exacerbate health problems and extend recovery time. One-quarter of women don't seek needed medical care because they simply can't find the time and cannot take off from work.
Access to paid time off is the primary deciding factor in whether a parent stays home with a sick child. Without paid time off, workers may be forced to send children to school sick where they spread illness and experience negative short- and long-term health outcomes.
The already-high rates of infections are exacerbated when parents have no choice but to send sick children to child care centers. Alternately, children who are left home alone may be unable to obtain accurate diagnoses or medications—or even summon emergency help if their condition deteriorates.
Studies of hospitalized children show that parental presence and participation in their care leads to shorter recovery time, better vital signs and fewer symptoms. Parental presence also has been shown to shorten children's hospital stays by 31 percent. Shorter hospital stays mean lower medical bills and less interference with the child's education.
Research confirms what advocates for working families and many employers have long stated: when businesses take care of their workers, they are better able to retain them. And when workers have the security of paid time off, they experience increased commitment, productivity and morale, and their employers reap the benefits of lower turnover and training costs. Furthermore, studies show that the costs of losing an employee (which can include advertising for, interviewing and training a replacement) is often far greater than the cost of providing short-term leave to retain existing employees. The average cost of turnover is 25 percent of an employee's total annual compensation.
Paid sick days policies also help reduce the spread of illness in workplaces, schools and child care facilities. In this economy, businesses cannot afford "presenteeism," when sick workers come to work rather than stay at home. Presenteeism costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity. For employers, this costs an average of $255 per employee per year and exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits.
There is substantial evidence from the United States that absence of paid sick days can lead to behaviors that increase the risk of spreading contageon. Despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's new requirement that workers with stomach flu-like illnesses restrict their work until 24 hours after symptoms subside, if a worker cannot afford to lose pay, they will likely ignore the health restrictions. 68 percent of workers report they have gone to work with the stomach flu or other contagious disease. Nearly half reported that they went to work sick because they could not afford to lose the pay. As a result, contagion is spread and 40 percent of workers report they contracted the flu from a colleague.
In addition to their colleagues, workers who choose to go to work sick risk getting customers ill. Nearly half of outbreaks caused by the stomach flu are linked to ill food-service workers, who are among the least likely to receive paid sick days. In 2008, health officials said a sick employee at a Chipotle restaurant in Kent, Ohio might have caused an outbreak resulting in over 500 people becoming violently ill. The outbreak cost the Kent community between $130,233 and $305,337 in lost wages, lost productivity and health care costs.
The stomach flu accounts for over 23 million cases of food-borne illness a year, all stemming from some contact between a contagious worker and the food ingested by the public.
In November 2006, the voters of San Francisco passed a ballot initiative which made their city the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee paid sick days to all workers in the city. The measure received overwhelming support, with 61 percent voting in favor. Under San Francisco's law, workers earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers in businesses with 10 or fewer employees earn up to five days per year, while workers at larger businesses earn nine days per year. Workers use paid sick time to recover from illness, attend doctor visits or care for a sick child, partner or designated loved one.
In March 2008, the Washington, D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass legislation guaranteeing workers paid sick time. Under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act, workers in businesses with 100 or more workers earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year, workers in businesses with 25 – 99 workers earn five days, and workers in businesses with 24 or fewer workers earn three days. This paid time off can be used to recover from illnesses, care for sick family members, seek routine or preventative medical care or obtain assistance related to domestic violence or sexual assault. Amendments, including exemptions for some restaurant workers as well as workers in the first year of their jobs, reduced many of the bill's original intended impacts, but more than 100,000 workers who did not previously have paid sick time will now have it under the provisions of the bill, including many low-wage workers. The D.C. law is also the first in the U.S. to include paid "safe" days for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
In November 2008, paid sick days were put to a vote on the Milwaukee ballot, and voters passed the measure with 69 percent of the vote, enacting a law that guarantees paid sick and safe days for all workers in the city. The ordinance will allow all workers in the city of Milwaukee to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, capped at nine paid sick days a year. Workers in businesses with fewer than 10 employees would accrue at a rate of one hour for every 50 worked, up to five days a year. Workers will be able to use the time for their own illness, family illness, medical appointments or any absence necessary due to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
The U.S. guarantees only unpaid leave for serious illnesses, like cancer, through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which does not cover employers with fewer than 50 workers and employees who have not worked for their employer for at least 12 months prior to taking the leave.
Sick leave has its origins in trade union campaigns for its inclusion in industrial agreements. In Australia, it was introduced into "industrial awards" in 1922 
Under the Federal Governments industrial relations legislation (WorkChoices) eligible employees are entitled to:
Paid personal/carer's leave can be taken:
Up to ten days of paid personal/carer's leave in any given year can be used as carer's leave and personal/carer's leave is cumulative
At least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing a week or more annually. One hundred and two countries guarantee one month or more of paid sick days.
Many high-income economies require employers to provide paid sick days upwards of 10 days, including: Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Singapore.
In August 2008, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago released their findings from a national public opinion poll on paid sick days.
A coalition led by Alaska PIRG is advocating for a paid sick days standard in Alaska that would provide one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. The legislation would apply to all businesses with 15 or more employees. The paid sick time could be used to recover from illness, care for a sick family member, or seek domestic violence recovery services.
California's paid sick days campaign, led by the Labor Project for Working Families, ACORN, and the California Labor Federation, is working to build on San Francisco's historic 2006 victory and bring paid sick days to all California workers. The California coalition includes advocates working on behalf of workers, women, children, people of color, and the state's public health interest.
The paid sick days bill would ensure that workers could earn one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked. Workers at smaller businesses would be able to earn up to five days per year, while workers employed at larger businesses could earn up to nine. Workers could use paid sick days to recover from illness, to care for an ill family member, or to seek services related to sexual assault or domestic violence.
The campaign had a near-victory in the 2008 legislative session and has committed to continuing their work in the 2009 session.
The Colorado Paid Sick Days Coalition is led by 9to5, National Association of Working Women, and includes many partner organizations working on behalf of workers, women, children, people of color, and the state's public health interest. Colorado's paid sick days bill would provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 9 days for a full-time worker. The bill would allow workers to take time away from work to recover from illness, receive medical treatment, care for a sick family member or seek services related to domestic violence.
Connecticut's campaign is led by Working Families and Connecticut ACORN. They are campaigning for a basic workplace standard that would enable workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, capped at 52 hours (or 6.5 days) per year. Under the paid sick days standard Connecticut workers at businesses with 50 or more employees would be able to take a paid sick day to recover from illness, seek preventive care, care for a sick family member, or seek assistance related to family violence, sexual assault or violence.
Women Employed is leading the Illinois coalition supporting the Healthy Workplace Act, which would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven days per year. The coalition includes dozens of advocacy groups from across the state that are raising public awareness about paid sick days and campaigning for this new workplace standard. Under the Healthy Workplace Act, paid sick days could be used to recover from an illness, to care for a sick family member or to seek medical diagnosis or treatment.
The Maine Women's Lobby partnered with the Maine Work and Family Coalition to advance a paid sick days bill in 2008. The committee-amended version of the bill would guarantee workers up to five paid sick days per year, accrued at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, and cover all workers employed by establishments with 25 or more employees. Working throughout the 2008 election cycle to mobilize the public, advocates identified nearly 6,000 new supporters of paid sick days ready to take action in support of the legislation in 2009.
The Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition, coordinated by Greater Boston Legal Services on behalf of Massachusetts ACORN, and in partnership with the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action and labor unions, is working together to gain strong support for the Massachusetts paid sick days bill in the state legislature. The coalition, which includes advocates for workers, seniors, children, and people of color, is working to advance a bill that would provide all workers the right to earn up to seven paid sick days annually. Workers could use paid sick days to recover from illness, to care for a sick family member, or to seek assistance related to domestic violence.
Minnesota ACORN, which is leading the state's campaign to secure paid sick days, is expanding its coalition, which includes Minnesota AFL-CIO, Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, Minnesota Women's Political Caucus, AFSCME Council 5, Business and Professional Women of Minnesota, Children Defense Fund of Minnesota, SEIU Minnesota State Council, St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, UFCW, and UNITE HERE. The Minnesota Healthy Families, Healthy Workplace Act of 2009 would provide all workers with paid sick days to be used to recover from their own illness, to care for a sick family member, or for absence related to domestic violence. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked, capped at 72 hours (or nine days) per year. Smaller businesses would provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, capped at 40 hours (or 5 days) per year.
Representative Mary Caferro (Helena, MT) is leading efforts to pass a paid sick days standard in the Montana Legislature's 2009 session. Her efforts will be supported by local advocates from WEEL (Working for Equality and Economic Liberation), which is a grassroots social and economic justice organization that advocates for policies that improve the lives of low-income families. This year, the Montana Legislature's Democratic Women's Caucus has included the Safe Days, Sick Days legislation as one of its top priorities.
New Hampshire's campaign, led by the New Hampshire Women's Lobby, is partnering with a large coalition that includes women's rights and public health advocates to advance a paid sick days bill in the state's legislature. The proposed bill, introduced by Representative Mary Stuart Gile, would provide up to five paid sick days for all the state's workers.
New York City's campaign, which is jointly led by A Better Balance and the NY State Paid Family Leave Coalition, is working with a broad coalition to raise awareness and advance a paid sick days standard that would cover all of the workers in New York City. The coalition includes advocates working on behalf of workers, children, women, and the City's public health interest.
North Carolina's paid sick days coalition, led by the North Carolina Justice Center, is generating strong support for paid sick days in the community. The bill they are supporting would guarantee all workers one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven days annually. The paid sick days provided could be used for an employee's own illness, to care for a sick family member, or to recover from incidents of domestic violence and stalking.
Pennsylvania ACORN and PathWaysPA are working to pass paid sick days for all Pennsylvania workers. The Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Act would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, capped at 52 hours (or 6.5 days) per year. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be required to offer workers one hour of paid sick time for every 80 hours worked, capped at 26 hours per year. Workers may use paid sick days to recover from their own illness, to care for a sick family member, or to recover from or seek services related to incidents of domestic violence.
The coalition advocating for paid sick days in the city of Philadelphia, led by Pennsylvania ACORN, PathWaysPA, and SEIU 32BJ, is supporting the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces bill. Under the measure, workers would be able to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers in larger businesses could earn up to 72 hours (9 days) of paid sick time, and workers in smaller businesses could earn up to five days of paid sick time. Workers would be able to use their earned sick days to recover from illness or to care for a sick family member.
Voices for Vermont's Children, the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, and their coalition partners have launched a campaign to pass paid sick days for all workers in Vermont. Their paid sick days bill would require that employers provide up to seven paid sick days annually for workers to recover from their own illness, care for a sick family member or seek preventive or routine health care. The legislation also would create a safe days standard that survivors of domestic or sexual assault could use for legal or health issues. All benefits would be pro-rated for part-time workers.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Edward Kennedy intend to reintroduce the Healthy Families Act in spring 2009. The bill would guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days a year, earned at a rate of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers could use the paid sick time to recover from short-term illness, to care for a sick family member, for routine medical care, or to seek assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Employers with fewer than 15 workers would be exempt from the law.
The U.S. federal government itself guarantees its employees 13 paid sick days a year.
Opponents of a workplace standard believe that employers should offer paid sick days voluntarily. They believe that employers best understand the benefit preferences of their employees and must maintain flexibility to meet the unique needs of their workforce. Furthermore, opponents argue that paid sick days policies should provide predictability and stability to employers offering the program.