On Safety

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The safety argument for paid sick leave

September 25, 2015

Paid leave is getting more and more attention these days. But why should occupational safety and health professionals care about the issue?

On the surface, paid leave – including paid sick days and paid vacation days – may seem more related to benefits than safety. Paid leave falls under the realm of human resources and, indeed, is referenced in many employee benefits packages. The only clear connection to occupational safety and health is that paid sick leave could help prevent the spread of diseases at the workplace.

This is true, but paid leave does more than help prevent employees from getting each other sick. A recent Department of Labor report, The Cost of Doing Nothing, lays out the problems associated with a lack of paid leave. It goes beyond just germs at the office.

“Workers with unmet needs for leave may experience more stress, more work-family conflicts, and even worse health outcomes,” the report states.

Lack of paid leave may even affect the safety of a workplace. Workers who have sick days are nearly one-third less likely than workers without paid sick leave to be injured on the job, according to a 2011 NIOSH study. The researchers suggest that introducing or expanding paid sick leave programs could help employers reduce the number of nonfatal workplace injuries.

About 40 percent of workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, meaning they have to make a choice between earning a paycheck while working ill or staying home to get better and risk financial insecurity, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

On Sept. 15, more than 200 business school professors from nearly 100 different institutions wrote to members of Congress and asked them to pass legislation guaranteeing paid family and medical leave to all workers.

The letter notes some shocking statistics, including that only 13 percent of workers having access to paid family leave. And although the Family and Medical Leave Act provides job protection for workers who need to take unpaid time off, more than half of the workforce in this country is ineligible for those protections. And of those eligible, some may not be able to afford to take unpaid time off.

“It is time to ensure that the entire United States workforce has access to paid family and medical leave,” the letter states. “The nation must adopt a policy built for the populations and workforces of today and tomorrow, one that recognizes that entrepreneurship, mobility and care needs are all on the rise but so is the creation of low-wage jobs that offer few benefits to employees.”

The educators are pushing legislation called the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which was introduced earlier this year in both the House and the Senate. The bill would ensure workers are able to earn partial salary while taking up to 12 weeks of medical leave. Another proposed solution is the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn paid sick time to address any medical needs they or family members may be facing.

Bottom line, what this says to me is that if employers truly care about their workers and their safety, providing paid time off for those workers is a no-brainer.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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