U.S. Lags World in Paid Sick Days for Workers and Families

May 18, 2009

A new version of this report can be found here.

H1N1 Flu outbreak underscores need to adopt more effective paid sick day and sick leave policies

For Immediate Release: May 18, 2009
Contact: Alan Barber, 202-293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C.- The sudden emergence of the H1N1 virus and the possibility of an epidemic outbreak on a scale not seen in decades has led to the closings of schools and workplaces around the world. President Obama recently urged workers with flu symptoms to “stay home.” But a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows that the United States is the only one of 22 rich countries that fails to guarantee sick workers some form of paid sick leave.

The report, “Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries,” finds that the U.S. is the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in terms of economic and human development that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave. Under current U.S. labor law, employers are not required to provide short-term paid sick days or longer-term paid sick leave.

“Working Americans can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick because they don’t have paid sick days,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, Director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and Professor of Epidemiology at McGill University and lead author of the report. “The lack of paid sick days puts Americans at substantially greater risk of contagious diseases – from the flu, which kills thousands annually, to diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and the threat of new diseases like the H1N1 flu virus.”

To compare the various national policies, the authors calculated employer- or government- provided financial support available to workers facing a bout of flu requiring that they miss five days of work or a cancer treatment requiring that they miss fifty days of work.

The authors show that the United States is the only country in the study that does not provide paid sick leave for a worker undergoing a fifty-day cancer treatment and that only three countries – the United States, Canada and Japan – have no national policy requiring employers to provide sick days for workers who need to miss five days of work to recover from the flu.

Paid sick days and paid sick leave are critical to the ability of working Americans when they or their family members are sick and to prevent the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases.

“The economic costs of a serious flu outbreak are potentially enormous,” said Dr. Heymann. “We can’t afford to wait any longer before providing American workers with paid sick days.”

By relying solely on voluntary employer policies to provide paid sick days or leave to employees, tens of millions of U.S. workers are without paid sick days or leave. As a result, each year millions of American workers go to work sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness to their coworkers and customers.

On Monday, May 18, 2009 at 2:00 p.m., CEPR will host a briefing, in cooperation with the office of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, coinciding with Rep. DeLauro’s introduction of the Healthy Families Act. The briefing will focus on U.S. paid sick day policies and preventing the spread of infectious disease.


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