New research shows that 44 million private sector employees in the U.S. were not entitled to paid sick days from their employers last year. But that’s not just their problem — it’s yours as well. Workers without sick days aren’t good for your (or your business’) health.

“The fewer the number of workers who are able to stay home when sick, the more likely it is that diseases will spread, increasing health care costs and causing needless economic losses,” said Dr. Robert Drago, director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which conducted the survey. “We saw this during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic when workers without paid sick days were more likely to go to work while infected with H1N1.”

After correcting for job tenure requirements imposed by employers, the study found only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010. On average, employees have to wait 78 business days (about three-and-a-half months) before access to paid sick days is available to them, the IWPR said.

Employees in the food service and preparation industries have the lowest rate of access, with only 23 percent of them being eligible for paid sick days. Occupations with both rates of eligibility and high rates of employee turnover — which includes food service, construction, personal care and protective services such as guards and watchmen — generate extremely low rates of sick day coverage, leaving workers much more vulnerable in the event of sudden illness or injury, the study showed.

Occupations with high rates of access to paid sick days include industries involving computers, mathematics and management, as well as life, physical and social sciences.

“This study has important implications for the nation’s economy,” said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “With unemployment so high and job searches taking so long, greater access to earned paid sick days will help ensure that workers won’t lose their jobs if they get sick or a child needs care.”


San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee have all passed laws requiring that employers provide paid sick days to workers. Similar laws are being considered in states and cities around the country, including New York City. The Healthy Families Act, introduced in Congress every year since 2005, would also mandate employer-provided paid sick days at the national level.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.