According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries with no national policy for sick leave. Despite many efforts by grass roots groups and legislators, the business community continues to fight hard against legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick time to employees.
However, in recent times, lawmakers are calling for legislation that would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year. Experts claim that paid sick leave cost employers very little, but forcing sick employee to come to work does not preserve productivity or efficiency in the workplace.
Proponents claim that keeping sick workers at home has historically been intended to prevent them from making others sick. But statistics show that back pain is the highest cause of missing work for illness and that is not a condition that is contagious.
In the U.S., many workers through the years have been granted paid sick leave under their individual employer policy or a collective bargaining agreement. Accordingly, roughly 65% of workers have access to paid sick leave. But many claim that a national policy regarding paid sick leave is long overdue.
At present, only 3 states and 16 cities have mandatory sick leave laws with many claiming that the movement is gaining necessary momentum. Despite this evidence, Republicans opponents are pushing back. So far, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin have all passed legislation prohibiting municipal governments from enacting paid sick days.
Conservative groups have long argued that paid sick time is detrimental because employers will be forced to reduce salaries and other compensation to cover the related expenses. However, supporters claim that there is little evidence to support this position.
In Connecticut, the first state to require employers to provide earned paid sick days, the effect on the cost of business operations has been more modest than expected. Surprisingly, no measurable reduced wages or other negative effects were reported.
Lawmakers and policy changers argue that the need for paid sick time is critical at the lower end of the pay scale. Workers that need sick leave most are low-wage, part-time and service industry workers.
Low-income workers, women and minorities are least likely to have paid time off to care for themselves or dependents. This is particularly troubling because it puts workers in a position where they must make a choice between going to work ill or taking unpaid time and threatening the most basic economic needs of their family.
Lawmakers recommend that employees earn one hour of paid sick pay per 40 hours worked. This would be 40 hours of paid sick time on a rolling basis, beginning immediately upon employment. The sick time would be limited to 90 days after employment. Furthermore, earned leave could be used for care of close relatives or instances of domestic violence.
Limitations would exempt federal and state employees, workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, temporary employees, interns, adjunct faculty, independent contractors, pool workers including per diem hospital workers, and part-timers working less than 15 hours per week.
All in all, it is evident from the state of our current system that change is needed. No, sick leave is not part of workers compensation. However, at some point in the future, it may be part of a larger mandatory compensation system or available to a broader range of employees through government agencies.
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