Paid Sick Leave: Putting Legislative Preferences before Individual Preferences

Source: Jill L. Jenkins, Employment Policies Institute, May 2007

Paid sick leave is rapidly becoming the next big legislative trend. The first paid sick leave mandate was implemented in San Francisco in February 2001, but already many other cities and states have followed suit with proposals of their own. And there are currently two proposals at the national level. While the details vary, these proposals all typically allow employees to take paid sick leave for their own illness or to provide care for a sick child, spouse, or other relative (and, in the case of San Francisco, domestic partner, or “designated person”). The amount of leave typically averages about 7 days a year.

Because this is a relatively new policy, there is little research examining its effects. Proponents focus on two key arguments: one moral and one social. The moral argument is that low-wage entry-level employees should be able to take sick days without worrying about losing income—“no one should have to go to work sick for fear of losing their job or being unable to pay their bills.” The social argument is that a sick leave policy benefits society as well—“we, as a society, do not want the people serving our food or taking care of our children coming to work sick and potentially passing their illness along.” Each of these arguments packs a punch and neither is, strictly speaking, wrong, but neither tells the whole story either.

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