I’m Sick, I Have Insurance, But I Can’t Take Time Off From Work to See the Doctor!
Workers have always needed to care for their children, families and elderly relatives, and at the same time, be productive, responsible employees. For women, this breadth of responsibilities is felt with greater pressure, as women are more often the primary caregivers at home in addition to their paid outside employment. But today, when workplaces don’t provide the basic labor standard of paid sick days, the economic security of women and their families is at risk.
Because childbearing and family care responsibilities lead to time out of the paid workforce, women are more likely to work in lower paying jobs, work part-time, and earn lower incomes. Unfortunately these jobs are significantly less likely to offer any paid, job-protected sick leave. Seventy-nine percent of low-income workers do not have a single paid sick day.
As our population ages, more women find themselves providing care for elderly parents—many of these women are simultaneously working and raising children of their own, and will need paid sick days to continue to meet all of their responsibilities. Family caregiving takes a financial toll on working people, especially when they have to take unpaid time off from work. Over 34 million caregivers, nearly all of them women, provide assistance at the weekly equivalent of a part-time job (more than 21 hours), and need to know that when they have a health need, their jobs and incomes will be protected during the time they are away.
The lack of paid sick days is also a public health concern. Workers who interact with the public every day are much less likely to have paid sick days. Only 22 percent of food and hotel workers have any paid sick days, for example. Workers in child care centers, retail clerks, and nursing homes, primarily women, also disproportionately lack paid sick days. When working people have no choice but to go to work sick, their colleagues, clients and customers also face an increased risk of contracting illness.
Further, women would benefit from paid time off available to victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault so they are able to seek assistance without fearing that their livelihood is in jeopardy. With nearly one in three women in the U.S. reporting physical or sexual abuse by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, and abuse among older women becoming more reported, providing protections to help women get out of abusive situations is critical. By allowing domestic violence victims to use paid sick days to care for their physical and mental health, to find alternative housing or to obtain a restraining order to prevent further abuse, a federal standard of paid sick leave would help to ensure that these women are not forced to choose between their income and their safety.
Our nation has a history of passing laws to help workers in times of economic crisis, but sadly, the record on protecting and supporting women is not as strong. In this time of economic crisis, women need the protection of paid sick time more than ever. Working women should not have to risk their financial health when they do what all of us agree is the right thing—recover from illness without jeopardizing the health of others, or care for a sick family member who needs them. Now is the time to put family values to work by adopting a basic workplace standard of paid sick days and deliver on protections that will have a significant impact on women in the workforce.
Congress should act to pass legislation that would guarantee women (and men!) in the paid workforce up to seven paid sick days per year to recover from short-term illness, to care for a sick family member or child, for routine medical care or to seek assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. A basic workplace standard of paid sick days would help prevent women (and men!) from being forced to choose between their own health or the health of their family—and their paychecks or even their jobs.