Equal Pay/Fair Wage

Illinois Sick Day Bill to Require 7 Paid Days

Sunday, April 8, 2012

States should guarantee paid time off for sickness. Too many workers--mostly women--are prepping food and providing healthcare when they should be home with the flu. Second of four in a series by Women Employed's Melissa Josephs.

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Prepping Food with a Bad Flu

This is the dilemma of many a single mother making minimum wage, scraping every last penny just to pay her bills. If she stays home sick she might not be able to make rent that month or put enough food on the table. Going to her food-prep job with a bad flu seems like her only rational choice.

Forty two million private sector workers – roughly 42 percent of private-sector workers– do not get paid sick days.

The situation is particularly bad for low-wage workers. Only one quarter of these workers have paid sick days.

In the top earnings quartile, by contrast, 81 percent enjoy this benefit.

The majority of workers in the lowest-paid jobs are in food service, retail, and other service professions where they come into contact with the public on a daily basis. When these workers get sick, they either go to work (a major risk to public health) or suffer the financial consequences, which can be devastating for a family who can barely make ends meet.

Tina Jackson, a single mom, knows what a strain it can be when someone gets sick.

"I'm a healthcare worker, and I'm always on duty," says Jackson. "My son got sick with the flu, so for three days I was home with him with no healthcare, no sick days, no vacation days, because that doesn't come with the job. So that was three days of pay that I lost. With everything focused on making sure we still have a place to stay and that bills are paid, that three days really hit home hard."

A worker such as Jackson, earning the federal minimum wage and working 40 hours a week, earns just under $300 a week before taxes. If she has to miss three days of work, that is $174 in lost wages. That leaves $126 to cover that week's expenses, an impossibility for most.

Meet Toni Park, a restaurant worker and single mom of four kids. "When I get sick, I have to either go to work or lose wages. I have a daughter who got a very strange illness, and I had to miss two months of work, so that meant two months without any pay at all, and that really affected my family adversely."

Stories such as Jackson's and Park's are extremely common, but they don't have to be. Several cities across the nation, including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, have passed ordinances requiring employers to provide paid sick days to their workers.

Connecticut is the first state to have a law on paid sick days.

Other states must follow quickly. We should all have the opportunity to stay home when we're sick and prevent the spread of the illness.

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Melissa Josephs is director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, which leads the Illinois Paid Leave Coalition.

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