The state of Oregon has done something that only three other states have done in the U.S.: They’ve passed a paid sick leave requirement for businesses with over ten employees. The bill, which now goes to Governor Kate Brown to sign, mandates at least 40 hours of paid sick leave for employees to use for their own illnesses, or their children’s illnesses (businesses with fewer than 10 employees must offer unpaid sick leave). According to KGW Portland, the legislature passed it over objections from Republicans that it would hurt businesses, especially agricultural businesses.
This is groundbreaking because the U.S. is the only first-world country that doesn’t have any paid leave requirements at all. This hurts workers, particularly in lower-wage jobs, because they often can’t afford to take time off when they’re sick. So they go to work sick, their productivity suffers, they pass their illness on to others (including customers), which hurts business even more.
In 2012, the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF) published a fact sheet explaining how paid sick days are good for business. Paid sick days reduce both turnover and absenteeism, and they increase productivity for the entire workforce, as illnesses don’t spread nearly as quickly.
Furthermore, the cost of presenteeism, which is what it’s called when employees are sick but come to work anyway, is higher than the cost of absenteeism. NPWF says that presenteeism actually costs the U.S. economy roughly $160 billion each year. Furthermore, employees who can stay home when they’re sick often recover faster, because they’re able to rest and get medical care sooner if they need it.
When it comes to caring for sick children, that’s even harder. Republicans call themselves the party of family values, and yet, they don’t want to do anything that helps workers take time off to care for their sick children, because forcing businesses to offer paid sick leave is just wrong. They’re only family-values friendly if it suits their wealthy handlers.
The bottom line is that workers should not have to worry that they’re going to lose their jobs, or that they won’t be able to pay a bill, if they take a little time to care for themselves or a sick child. Yet, that’s the environment we live in, where workers are not seen as an asset, but as a necessary evil.
We could sit here and wish that employers would do these things on their own, but it’s abundantly clear that they won’t. Our labor laws are inadequate, and unions don’t have much sway here anymore, so employers run roughshod over their workers simply because they can. Investing in workers is better for business than we’ve been taught to think these days, but if they won’t do it themselves, and it’s hurting workers, then someone else has to.