Thursday, May 19, 2011

Healthy Families Act Reintroduced in Congress

Millions of Americans working without paid sick days face the impossible choice between caring for their health and that of their family, and keeping their paycheck or job. At a time when many families are worried about their financial security, the threat of losing a job or needed wages forces many workers to go to their jobs even though they are ill.

The lack of paid sick days poses a risk to public health. Many of the workers without paid sick days are in food service and health care jobs where illness can be spread to those they work with and serve.

Laura Baker, a barista at a Denver Starbucks, says the company does not offer her paid sick leave. She says that puts others at risk because she is forced to go to work sick in order to make enough money to cover rent.

"We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry, and yes, we sneeze," Baker says. "So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn't afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu."

But the lack of paid sick days is more than just a public health crisis – it is an economic crisis. As hard-working Americans are fired for being sick, they add to the growing unemployment rates and keep our economic recovery from moving forward.

“My daughter, who was eight months pregnant, had an asthma attack at work,” says Rhonda Willette, of Milwaukee 9to5 . “She’d been on the job five months, but she didn’t qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. When she returned to work three days later with a medical statement, she was fired. No one would hire her at eight months pregnant. She became homeless. If she’d had paid sick days, my daughter would have kept her job and her income.”

There is a solution.

The Healthy Families Act, introduced last week by Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Harkin (D-IA), will allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness, access preventive care or look after a sick child or other family members.

This modest amount of sick leave will have a huge impact on millions of workers across the country, allowing them to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they are sick – without the fear of losing their jobs or needed wages.

And paid sick days will help workers without hurting business. In San Francisco and Washington, DC, where laws have already been enacted, studies have shown that workers are not only healthier but more productive when they have access to paid sick days. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability, and two-thirds of employers support the law.

“Paid sick day policies are good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too,” says Erin Bennett, Colorado Director of 9to5. In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, safeguard public health and protect working families, we need paid sick days – and we need the Healthy Families Act.

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