President Barack Obama's is proposing legislation Thursday that would give American workers seven days a year of paid sick leave. The U.S. remains the world's only wealthy nation that does not mandate a minimum of paid sick leave, vacation leave or parental leave.
Nationally, nearly 4 in 10 private sector workers -- 39 percent -- do not have access to any sick leave at all. Zero. Zilch. None. According to Betsey Stevenson of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, that amounts to 43.5 million workers who may be compelled by financial reasons to come into the office when they're sniffling, sneezing, barfing, and generally feeling under the weather, making the rest of us ill in the process.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that access to paid sick leave varies considerably by occupation. Eighty-eight percent of private sector managers and financial workers have access to paid leave, more than double the rate among service workers (40 percent) and construction workers (38 percent).
Paid sick leave is also a factor in the nation's income inequality, although whether it's a cause or effect isn't clear. The top 10 percent of private sector wage earners are more than four times as likely (87 percent) to get paid sick leave as the bottom ten percent of workers (20 percent).
The business case for paid sick leave is a strong one. A study last year of Connecticut's paid sick leave law found that employers saw little effect on their overall expenses, while 15 percent saw increased productivity, 20 percent saw a reduction in sick workers coming to the office, and 30 percent saw a notable improvement in employee morale. A year and a half after the law went into effect, more than three quarters of employers supported it.
A 2003 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that working sick cost American employers about $160 billion in lost productivity annually. Put succinctly, "Employees who work sick endanger business profits by putting the health and productivity of other workers - as well as customers and the public - at risk."
Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.