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Paid sick days


It’s that time of year—flu season is in full swing. And when we get sick, we know that it is important to stay home from work to speed our recovery and prevent spreading our illness to our co-workers and clients.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans cannot call in sick. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 40 million private sector workers do not have access to a single paid sick day. This means that many workers face the dangerous choice between their health and financial security when illness strikes or unexpected medical needs arise.

In this fragile economy, workers should not have to put their jobs in jeopardy in order to see the doctor. Yet according to a University of Chicago study 23 percent of adults in the U.S. say they have lost a job or been threatened with job loss for needing time off from work when they or a family member are sick. Overall, 8 out of 10 Americans working low-wage jobs, more than 4 in 10 African American workers, and nearly 6 in 10 Latino workers do not have access to paid sick days. In addition, more than 2 in 5 working women—who increasingly are the primary breadwinners and have always been the primary caregivers of their families—lack any paid sick days. And millions more Americans do not have the paid sick days that would allow them to stay home to care for a sick child or family member—so they have to make the impossible decision between caring for their families and making sure they get their next paycheck.

The irony is that providing workers with sick leave could help save health costs for all of us. Because people delay getting care when they first get sick, and because they can’t take time off during regular doctors’ hours, people without paid sick days are twice as likely to go to the emergency room. As we’ve discussed before extra visits to the emergency room swells costs for everyone. This week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a new study that finds that providing access to paid sick days would save a whopping $1 billion in medical costs annually. According to the analysis, “paid sick days are associated with better self-reported health, fewer delays in medical care and fewer emergency department visits for adults and their children.”

Specifically, the findings reveal that:

  • Universal access to paid sick days would save $1.1 billion annually by shifting the treatment of preventable illnesses from emergency departments to less expensive doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospital outpatient settings.
  • Controlling for other factors, 4 in 10 American workers without paid sick days are more likely than workers with paid sick days to delay medical care for themselves or a family member.
  • Approximately 2.6 million fewer Americans would delay medical care each year if paid sick days were universal.

So, where would the $1 billion in savings actually come from? Currently, taxpayer-funded public health care programs that serve children, seniors, low-income Americans and veterans—including Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, and Tricare—cover $500 million of these avoidable costs. The remaining preventable emergency department costs are transferred to every person in this country who pays out of pocket for health care and to insurance companies and their customers.

During a season that reminds us to take an extra moment to be thankful for all we have, it seems especially appropriate to be grateful for employers who provide paid sick days, and to keep in mind the 2 out of 5 private sector employees who are one sick day away from losing their jobs.

To find out how you can get involved with a nationwide campaign to provide access to paid sick days, please visit