sickleave-240px-164922063In recent months, several states and localities have passed laws to mandate paid sick leave. One way the local laws differ is in the grounds required for taking sick leave. Most cover sick leave when the employees or their family members are sick, and some also cover preventative care. Many are now granting coverage for the victims of violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Proposed Federal Law

President Obama recently endorsed the Healthy Families Act, which includes those last three criteria. But having paid sick leave be required for every company is something that has been rejected by every Congress since 2004. Under the Healthy Families Act, a mandated sick leave benefit would say that employees could earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. This would accrue at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave per every 30 hours worked. It would apply to all businesses with more than 15 workers.

Existing Laws

Obviously, as the actions of Congress over the last decade show, there’s disagreement about the idea of making paid sick leave a national requirement. It isn’t a partisan issue; both Republicans and Democrats have held control of Congress over that time.

A recent survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 61% of workers were receiving paid sick leave from their employers. So what motivates a business owner to offer this benefit? Generally they do it in an effort to attract and keep good workers, as well as the obvious need to keep diseases and illnesses from spreading in the workplace.

Infecting Co-workers

The second point is a real concern. In a 2010 study, “Sick at Work: Infected Employees in the Workplace during the H1N1 Pandemic.”, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, authors Robert Drago, PhD, and Kevin Miller, PhD, drew several conclusions, including:

  1. During the peak of the pandemic in the United States, more than 90% of public sector employees stayed home when sick with the H1N1 flu, but only 66% of private sector employees took time off from work when ill, despite being told to stay home if sick.
  2. These workers who came in while sick are estimated to have caused the infection of as many as 7 million co-workers.

Presumably, many of those infected co-workers ended up taking time off, or were less productive if they felt compelled to work while sick. The study didn’t estimate how many of those who remained on the job while infected lacked sick leave benefits.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also conducted a survey, “Examining Paid Leave in the Workplace.” This one looked in more detail at sick leave policies, and found that 81% of responding employers provide some form of paid leave to employees. Note: All companies surveyed were SHRM members and were large enough to have human resource departments.

Paid Time Off

Participants in the SHRM study were evenly divided between employers who offer paid sick leave as part of a paid-time-off policy (commonly called PTO, which includes vacation and personal days), and those having a standalone sick day benefit. Here are some additional highlights of the study:

  • Employers who do offer paid sick leave allow an average of 10 days, and only 14% of employers who offer the benefit don’t cap the number of days an employee can take in a year.
  •  Among the remaining employers, 59% allow new hires to begin accruing sick leave immediately and 38% allow new hires to take sick leave immediately.
  • Finally, 15% of employers use employee length of time with the company to decide the number of sick days.

Good Time to Review Your Policy

This is obviously an important and timely topic. All small business owners should review employee benefits from time to time, and realize that offering paid sick leave can help a business keep good workers, and help those good employees stay healthy. A business that doesn’t provide paid sick leave may want to consider doing so. To learn more about employee benefits, contact Filler & Associates.