Sick leave less available for lower-income workers

MINNEAPOLIS — More than a third of U.S. employees don’t get paid when they get sick and have to stay home.

And those without paid sick days also tend to be the lowest-paid workers on the job, a scenario that exacerbates wage inequalities in the private sector, said a report released this week by the Economic Policy Institute.

“Access to sick days is vastly unequal,” said report author Elise Gould.

The study, which analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found 38 percent of private-sector workers receive no paid sick time.

Yet it also found 86 percent of the highest-paid workers in private industry had access to paid sick days, compared with only 19 percent of the lowest-paid workers.

“When these workers get sick, they are either forced to go to work or stay home without pay and risk losing their job,” Gould said. “Workers at the top of the wage scale were more than four times more likely to have sick days than workers at the bottom of the wage scale. … These low-income workers are the ones who can least afford to lose pay when they are sick.”

Institute economists noted that most nations, poor or rich, provided workers with paid time off for illness.

They suggested a law giving all U.S. workers a similar benefit could potentially increase worker productivity by boosting loyalty while decreasing employee turnover and illnesses that are spread through the workplace.

Such an effort would likely draw resistance from some employers who argue against government regulation and the costs involved in potential abuses surrounding a sick-day policy.

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