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Family Leave & Paid Sick Days

About Family Leave & Paid Sick Days

For American workers, a good job has many defining characteristics: a fair wage or salary, health care benefits, a safe work environment, and the ability to take time off work when needed without losing pay. IWPR studies several types of  paid time off from work:

  1. Paid sick leave, usable by employees with little or no advance notice, to recuperate from illness, seek medical care, or care for family members; and,
  2. Longer-term leave such as family and medical leave, parental leave, and disability leave, taken by fewer employees but for longer periods.

      More than forty percent of private sector workers in the United States have no access to paid sick days (PSD). Paid sick days legislation, which would require businesses to provide leave when workers or their children are ill, has been introduced each year since 2005 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. PSD is also the focus of several campaigns around the country at the local, state, and federal levels.

      In a 2009 briefing paper, IWPR reported that employees who attended work while infected with H1N1 are estimated to have caused the infection of as many as 7 million co-workers (according to data compiled by IWPR from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Public opinion tends to support PSD policies as demonstrated by a 2010 survey by IWPR. The survey of registered voters, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, found that more than two-thirds of registered voters (69 percent) endorse laws to provide paid sick days.

      Three out of four (76 percent) endorse laws to provide paid leave for family care and childbirth—81 percent of women and 71 percent of men.

      IWPR conducts research on the impacts of both paid sick leave and longer-term leave, including the costs of implementing leave systems or passing paid sick time laws, as well as the anticipated benefits for workers, employers, and the public of expanding access to leave.

      IWPR produces reports, memoranda, and testimony regarding the impacts of proposed paid leave laws or to inform policymakers, business leaders, and advocates. In 2010, IWPR staff members testified on paid sick leave before the House Labor Committee of the Illinois General Assembly, the Labor Relations Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and the New York City Council. IWPR also submitted a technical memorandum to the Maine Legislature.


      Paid Sick Days Access Varies by Race/Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, and Job Characteristics | Fact Sheet

      Paid Sick Days By State

      San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees | Report

      Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption Leave in the United States | Briefing Paper

      The Need for Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees: Adapting to a Changing Workforce | Report

      Visit our external resources page for links to more information on this topic.

      To see our experts on this and other initiatives, click here.

      Latest Reports from IWPR

      Valuing Good Health: An Estimate of Costs and Savings for the Healthy Families Act
      by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (March 2005)

      #B248, 21 pages

      Valuing Good Health: An Estimate of Costs and Savings for the Healthy Families Act
      by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (March 2005)

      The Healthy Families Act (HFA) would ensure that all eligible workers have a minimum of seven days of paid time off annually to take care of their own health needs and those of members of their families. This report presents an estimate of the cost of that Act and of certain cost savings it would provide to employers, to workers and their families, and to the broader community (Table 1). Several other likely benefits for which we currently lack estimation data are also discussed. Of course, the overall purpose of the Act is to reduce economic hardship of workers when they, or their family members, have medical care needs, and we are unable to calculate the value of that benefit.

      Preview not available

      Work Supports, Job Retention, and Job Mobility Among Low-Income Mothers
      by Sunhwa Lee (November 2004)

      #B247P, 67 pages

      A New Full-Time Norm: Promoting Work-Life Integration Through Work-Time Adjustment*
      by Cynthia Negrey (July 2004)

      (Cynthia Negrey is an Associate Professor Sociology Department, University of Louisville) This paper is an argument for a new, shorter, full-time work norm in the United States. It examines the context of “time famine” as a product of women’s increased labor force participation and an increase in household total employment hours, a caregiving gap, bifurcation of aggregate work hours, and a gap between workers’ actual and ideal work hours. Inadequacies of current alternative work-time arrangements and the Family and Medical Leave Act are addressed and some international comparisons are discussed. Following Appelbaum et al. (2002), the author argues for a “shared work/valued care” model of work-time allocation.

      Preview not available

      Expanded Sick Leave Would Yield Substantial Benefits to Business, Employers, and Families
      by Vicky Lovell, Barbara Gault and Heidi Hartmann (June 2004)

      #B243, 3 pages

      No Time To Be Sick: Why Everyone Suffers When Workers Don’t have Paid Sick Leave
      by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (June 2004)

      Expansion of paid sick leave and integration of family caregiving activities into authorized uses of paid sick leave are crucial work and health supports for workers, their families, employers, and our communities at large.

      #B242, 27 pages

      The Fiscal Viability of New Jersey Family Leave Insurance
      by Michelle Naples and Meryl Frank (December 2001)

      The private needs of the family are now at the forefront of the national political agenda as a result of changes in the workforce and in family demographics. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is the cornerstone of the family policy movement. This act allows an unpaid leave of absence for employed family members who need to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or a seriously ill relative. Its benefits to working families are well documented (US DOL 1996; Cantor et al. 2000).


      Family Leave for Low-Income Working Women: Providing Paid Leave through Temporary Disability Insurance, The New Jersey Case
      by Michele I. Naples (October 2001)

      The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provided for unpaid time off from work to care for sick relatives or a newborn or adopted child, guaranteeing leave-takers’ jobs when they returned to work. Low-wage workers and single parents, however, cannot fully benefit from the FMLA because it offers no replacement income. In families that depend on women’s earnings to maintain living standards, unpaid time off from work threatens family finances that are already strained by the costs of bearing and providing for a new child, or the costs of health care for a sick family member. To ensure that those most in need of the protections of the FMLA can take advantage of the law, New Jersey is one among several states considering legislation to provide Family-Leave Insurance (FLI): paid leave to care for newborn babies and adopted children (BAA), and paid family-disability leave (FDL) to care for an ill child, spouse, or elderly parent. This Research-in-Brief summarizes a research project conducted by Michele I. Naples and Meryl Frank that examined proposals in New Jersey for paid family and medical leave programs. It discusses the policy context in which these programs are being considered and details the technical considerations behind estimating the cost of providing family leave insurance.


      The Widening Gap: A New Book on the Struggle to Balance Work and Caregiving
      by Hedieh Rahmanou (September 2001)

      This Research-in-Brief is based on selected findings from a new book by Jody Heymann, Director of Policy at the Harvard Center for Society and Health. Published by Basic Books in 2000, The Widening Gap: Why America’s Working Families are in Jeopardy and What Can Be Done About It reveals the failure of our nation’s employer-based support system to help families meet their caregiving responsibilities. Copyright permission was granted by Perseus Books LLC.


      Paid Family and Medical Leave: Supporting Working Families in Illinois
      by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (September 2000)

      Preview not available

      Providing Paid Family Leave: Estimating the Cost of Expanding California's Disability Insurance Program
      by Stephanie Aaronson (June 1995)

      Testimony before the U.S. Comission on Family and Medical Leave, San Francisco, CA. Estimates teh cost of expanding California's Temporary Disability INsurance Program and examines the feasibility of using the temporary disability insurance model to provide paid family leave to workers. Argues that paid family and medical elave is economically feasible.

      Preview not available

      Science and Politics and the "Dual Vision" of Feminist Policy Research: The Example of Family and Medical Leave
      by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (September 1991)

      Preview not available

      Unnecessary Losses:Costs to Americans for the Lack of Family and Medical Leave
      by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (May 1991)

      Unnecessary Losses concludes that the costs to workers and taxpayers of the current lack of national policy are many times greater than the cost to business of having a national policy. Having a national leave policy would reduce the costs to workers and society of the socially necessary tasks of childbirth, child care and eldercare, or of illness, because having the right to return to their jobs would reduce unemployment and earnings losses for workers who must be absent for these reasons.


      Unnecessary Losses to African American Workers
      by (April 1990)

      When a person temporarily leaves their employment because of the arrival of a child, illness of a family member, or her or his own illness, economic costs arise for three groups: workers, employers, and society. Workers in the U.S. lose enormous amounts in earnings from absence due to illness and family care-- an estimated $100 billion annually. Of these losses, at least $12 billion can be attributed to the lack of job protected leave. In addition, there are substantial outlays by taxpayers for unemployment compensation, welfare payments, Supplemental Security Income, etc. when workers do not have the right to return to their jobs-- an estimated $4.3 billion.

      Preview not available

      Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans in the States of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave
      by (August 1989)

      Despite widespread agreement that employment policies should be responsive to the needs of working families, Congress is currently engaged in debate about a national leave policy that would require minimum protections against job loss because of family and medical needs. The proposed policy would provide protections against job loss if a worker takes a short, unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a seriously ill child or parent, or the worker's own illness. Although some businesses object the the cost of a national policy, the cost to workers, and to society at large, of not having such a policy is often overlooked.

      Preview not available

      Costs to Women and Their Families of Childbirth and Lack of Parental Leave
      by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann (October 1987)

      Testimony before the Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs and Alcoholism, Committee on Labor and Human Resources, U.S., using figures and charts from IWPR's study Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave.

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