Eileen Appelbaum and Lonnie Golden
The Philadelphia Business Journal, April 29, 2011

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The most recent national jobs reports show improvements in the labor market, but the employment gains and the falling unemployment rate are still largely the result of a decline in layoffs and firings of workers.

Hiring remains weak as the latest government report on job openings and labor turnover shows. In a job market still facing challenges, reducing the number of workers who are laid off or fired is essential to building a healthier labor market, strengthening the recovery and spreading its benefits. Mandating paid sick days is one policy that will help employers keep workers in jobs.

Job retention is as important as job creation in getting the economy back on track. That’s why it’s critical to have a better understanding of the policies that will help employers keep workers in jobs, including paid sick days policies.

A surprisingly high two-out-of-five private sector workers, and four-out­-of-five low-wage workers, have no paid sick days at all in their jobs. That’s 210,000 Phiiadelphians who do not have a single paid sick day. And most workers who do have paid sick days can’t use them to care for a sick child.

Everyone gets the flu or a cold at some point, but too often workers without sick days get fired for taking the day off. The cost of these preventable firings hits the pocketbooks of individual families, and our entire economy. Just as counterproductive, many workers engage in “presentee-ism" -- working despite being ill, meaning not only are they working at sub­par performance but they are affecting other employees when their illness is contagious. More than 38,000 of those employees work in health care and social assistance jobs, many of them working directly with children and the elderly. More than 36,000 Philadelphians without paid sick days work in the restaurant and hotel industries, in jobs that include food preparation. Researchers have estimated the cost of presentee-ism to be 1.8 times the costs of absenteeism.

It's why paid sick days is one policy that’s gaining support here in Philadeiphia and across the country from public health advocates, workers and small businesses as a solution to address turnover and improve employee retention.

In addition to the bill being considered in Philadelphia -- the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which would allow employees to earn five or up to nine sick days a year -- other states and cities including New York, Denver and Seattle are considering similar measures.

Providing a minimum floor of paid sick days is the kind of policy we should be promoting to improve employee retention, minimize layoffs, encourage re-joining the work force, and help the labor market and economy recover.

Eileen Appelbaum is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Lonnie Golden is a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State Abington.