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Seven million reasons why California needs paid sick days

California is on the cusp of providing paid sick days to millions of hard-working individuals across the state, and this decision couldn’t come at a better time.

According to a new report issued Tuesday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), nearly seven million employees across California lack access to paid sick days at work. This number is much higher than previously reported, based on a detailed analysis of the National Health Information Survey (NHIS) and the American Community Survey (ACS), performed by the Washington DC-based think tank.

Who makes up these workers without access to paid sick days, you might ask? For starters, Hispanics are the least likely of any racial or ethnic group in California to have access. In a state where nearly 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, this statistic is quite startling, and an indication that we need to take action to ensure that all workers can meet their healthcare needs and those of their families.

A Washington Post story yesterday also highlighted the kinds of occupations that are more likely to offer paid sick days – and those that aren’t. For example, workers employed in computer and mathematics industries in California are more than four times as likely to have access than those in the food service and preparation industries. Not surprisingly, low-wage workers and those who work part-time are also least likely to have paid sick days.

These trends are discouraging given that the groups who are least likely to have access to paid sick days are among the most likely to benefit from them. For low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck, for example, taking just three unpaid days off can impact a family’s grocery budget for one month. In more extreme cases, workers have lost their jobs when they’ve taken a sick day: 11 percent of workers in one survey indicated having lost a job because they took time off to care for themselves or an ill family member.

No one should ever have to choose between their paychecks and caring for themselves and their family. Yet individuals across our state are routinely forced to do just that – and our communities and our economy pay the price. Research has shown that sick employees can spread illness among coworkers and customers, putting healthy people at risk. For example, the CDC recently reported that 70 percent of norovirus outbreaks can be traced to a sick restaurant worker. Even in office settings, paid sick days can protect the health of others: just two paid sick days could reduce workplace infections during flu season by almost 40 percent.

We know that employees who report to work sick have a negative impact on businesses, too. As research [link may not function with all browsers]from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine notes, “presenteeism” – or the loss of productivity when an employee shows up for work sick or is preoccupied by family caregiving—is greater than direct medical expenses for employers.

Momentum is clearly building across the state for paid sick days policies, and about 85 percent of Californians polled express support for paid sick days. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s (D-San Diego) bill on paid sick days, AB 1522, is currently pending in the state Senate and offers promise on this issue. If it passes, it may mean new access to paid sick days for the majority of workers in some counties (see the interactive map below).

We remain hopeful that at the end of the day, no one will be made to choose between their family’s economic security and their health.

How Does Your County Measure Up on Paid Sick Days?

About 7 million Californians don’t have paid sick days, but access to this important benefit is not equally distributed across the state. Click on your county to find out how many workers there don’t have paid sick days at work.

Source: County data derived from the 2010–2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) in Salina Tulachan and Jessica Milli, “Access to Paid Sick Days in California” (Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2014).

Note: Due to data limitations, San Francisco is not included. However, the city’s 2007 Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, likely puts the counties access close to 100%.

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