Don’t believe the myths! Get the facts about earned sick days:
Myth #1: A basic workplace standard of earned sick days isn’t needed. Workers can rely on voluntary employer policies.
Fact: Reliance on voluntary benefits is not enough. Currently, no federal and only one state law (CT) guarantees paid sick days, and working families must rely on voluntary workplace policies. Consequently, nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers lack even a single paid sick day.1 And an additional 4.2 million are too new to their jobs to be eligible for paid sick days through their employers.2 Only 19 percent of workers in the lowest tenth of wage earners have paid sick days.3
Myth #2: An earned sick days standard is a “job killer” that would force employers to cut wages or workers.
Fact: An earned sick days standard will help businesses reduce turnover and improve worker productivity—and the case of San Francisco proves it. While a paid sick days law would impose modest costs, it is also likely to help businesses. When companies respond to the needs of working families, workers are more committed and productive, and workplaces stay healthy.
The success of San Francisco’s earned sick days law proves that an earned sick days policy is not a “job killer.” Since 2007, job growth has been consistently higher in San Francisco than in neighboring counties that lack a paid sick days law. Total employment in San Francisco increased 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2010, while employment in five neighboring counties fell by 3.4 percent overall. San Francisco also experienced stronger employment growth than neighboring counties in leisure and hospitality, accommodation, and food service—the industries critics claimed would be most affected by an earned sick days law. And the overall number of businesses has grown more rapidly in San Francisco than in its five neighboring counties.4
Myth #3: A “one-size-fits-all” policy is bad for business. Setting a standard of earned sick days will make businesses less flexible.
Fact: A paid sick days standard will simply create a floor—a minimum labor standard that will level the playing field for businesses that already offer paid sick days. It’s clear that workers need paid sick days—and the public overwhelmingly supports access for all workers. A minimum labor standard of paid sick days would ensure that businesses are addressing workers’ basic needs. Employers are free to go beyond this floor to create policies that further meet the needs of their workforce.
Myth #4: Restaurants have small profit margins and large labor forces. They can’t afford to offer earned sick days.
Fact: While there are some minor costs to employers that provide earned sick days, the costs of not doing so are even greater. The largest study of the restaurant industry revealed that nearly two-thirds of cooks and servers report cooking or serving while sick.5 Without earned sick days, one worker who has to come to work sick could cause serious problems. For instance, a single foodborne outbreak has been estimated to cost a restaurant up to $75,000 in direct costs, including clean-up, re-staffing, restocking, settlements, and regulatory sanctions.
The cost of an outbreak rises dramatically if it involves death or serious illness. The indirect costs of a foodborne illness outbreak for a chain restaurant—including negative public opinion—can be up to $7 million.6 And, of course, the costs to the public of such an outbreak—including lost work and medical and hospitalization bills—are tremendous.
Myth #5: Jobs will be outsourced if an earned sick days law is passed.
Fact: The majority of workers who would benefit most from earned sick days are in industries that are the least likely to be outsourced because they involve direct contact with customers. Service workers and care workers—people whose work depends on person-to-person contact—are among the least likely to have paid sick days. For example, three in four food service and hotel workers (73 percent) don’t have a single paid sick day to use when they are ill. Majorities of child care and personal care workers also lack paid sick days.7 These aren’t jobs that can move overseas—and these workers are integral to our economy and our communities.
Myth #6: Workers with access to earned sick days will abuse the policy.
Fact: The evidence shows that workers with paid sick days take only one additional day off per year on average than workers without paid sick days. Workers with access to paid sick days take an average of 3.9 days per year for their own illnesses and 1.3 days to care for their family members. Workers without access to paid sick days take on average 3.0 days off for sickness per year. Among workers covered by a paid sick days policy already, half do not use any of their paid sick days.8
Myth #7: Workers don’t need earned sick days. They can just use paid vacation days or flex-time.
Fact: Most workers who lack earned sick days also lack paid vacation days. Many workers who don’t earn sick days don’t have any paid time off at all—no sick days, vacation, or personal days.9 Two in five working parents with household incomes below twice the federal poverty level do not have paid time off of any kind.10 In addition, many vacation policies require requesting time off in advance, but medical needs don’t arise on a predictable schedule.
Similarly, flexible scheduling does not meet the same needs as earned sick days. Many workers
who would benefit from an earned sick days standard work on strict schedules with set hours that may be determined solely by their employers with short notice. These workers are highly unlikely to be given the option of flexible working schedules. When workers’ schedules are at the discretion of their employers, they are not guaranteed time off when they need it most—when they are sick or when they must care for an ill family member.