Paid Sick Leave: Health Advocates Can Help Win A Common Sense Policy

Imagine waking up sick with the flu. Wouldn't you want to take a day off from work? What if not working meant going without pay? What if your boss has been reminding you about the value of reliability?

After July 1, 2015, fewer California workers will have to struggle with this choice. Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1522 making California the second state (after Connecticut) to guarantee most workers some paid sick leave.

AB 1522 is far from perfect. The three annual sick days it guarantees are too few for parents of children with chronic diseases like asthma. And the bill unfairly leaves behind workers who care for the elderly and disabled in their homes. Still, the bill is some progress in a nation where almost half of private sector workers have no paid time off to care for themselves or family members.

The law’s passage is also a testament to the power of collaboration among upstream health advocates and social movements. In 2008, Human Impact Partners authored a health impact assessment on California’s first attempt to legislate paid sick days. The bill was defeated but the health impact assessment brought health squarely into the paid sick days conversation. 

Public health arguments were clearly central to last week’s passage of AB 1522 as the following examples show.

“Too many workers, such as those in restaurants, day cares for children, and homes for the elderly, are forced to come in, running the risk of spreading infections, some potentially deadly,” said Assembly member Gonazales, the bill’s sponsor.

“This bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job," said Governor Brown about his endorsement.  

Our political leaders are increasingly making health arguments for paid sick days because of work done by Human Impact Partners, the National Partnership for Women and Families and others to research and communicate solid health facts – that keeping sick workers at work is a terrible strategy if we want to prevent and control disease outbreaks, care for sick children and increase workplace productivity.

Many cities and states are trying to get paid sick days guaranteed for all workers. Health professionals are trusted witnesses for what people need to be healthy. We – and the health systems we work for - should do more to get these laws passed.

 

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