May 4, 2009: Paid sick days promote a healthier state

Over the past week the swine flu has dominated news stories. With several confirmed cases in New Jersey, the Department of Health and Senior Services issued a press release emphasizing effective prevention methods such as frequent hand washing and staying home from work or school if any symptoms arise.

Good advice to be sure, but for many workers calling in sick because of a runny nose or cough, staying home is not an option. That’s because nearly half of New Jersey’s workers have no paid sick days. This presents a health hazard because nearly 80 percent of those without paid sick days work in food service and hotels and have significant public contact.

A number of states and cities have explored the option of guaranteeing paid sick days but with no federal law like the Healthy Families Act of 2005 to force compliance these efforts will have little effect. Although this law has languished in Congress, President Obama has suggested he would push to require employers to provide seven paid sick days a year for employees who are ill or who need to care for a sick family member.

There are many reasons New Jersey should guarantee paid sick days:

  • The absence of sick leave forces Americans to make untenable choices between needed income and jobs on the one hand and caring for their own and their family’s health on the other.
  • Paid sick days minimize the spread of illness which result in lost productivity for business.
  • Businesses that provide paid sick days benefit from increased commitment and productivity from their workers.
  • Routine medical care results in decreased medical costs by detecting and treating illness and injury early, minimizing the need for emergency care. These savings benefit public and private payers of health insurance, including private businesses.

As part of the NJ Time to Care coalition, NJPP supports initiatives that make sure working families have paid time to care for themselves and family members. As a state we should make this commitment to improving the life quality of our workforce and promoting a healthier New Jersey.