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It’s Time for Paid Sick Days in 2015

It’s Time for Paid Sick Days in 2015

If you had to choose between going into work to earn your paycheck, or staying home to care for yourself or a loved one, what would you do? What would you risk: your wages, your ability to pay for groceries, rent and utilities – or your health or the health of your child?

This complex network of choices is one too many Americans have to face every day. How do you weight your financial needs and your personal responsibilities? At some juncture, there’s a breaking point or there’s a compromise – but paid sick days legislation is so much more than a compromise, it’s a promise that work-family balance is real and is respected.

Adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than adults who have paid sick days at work to report going to work with a contagious illness, like the flu or a virus, which also makes them more likely to infect others. Especially now that it is flu season, it is more important now than ever before for us to ensure that individuals are getting the paid sick days that they need.

Paid sick days would also reduce turnover and thereby save employers money: the cost of replacing workers often exceeds the cost of having paid sick days policies to retain current workers. Paid sick days policies would also increase productivity: if workers had seven paid sick days a year, our national economy would have $160 billion annually in net savings because of reduced turnover and increased efficiency. Paid sick days would also help caregivers manage their caregiving responsibilities as well as the jobs that they need to support their families. There are 66 million adults who are unpaid caregivers for their family members or for their friends, and this number is growing. Having a paid sick days policy would help relieve a significant stress or burden on these caretakers.

The United States lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to paid sick leave; 163 nations already guarantee paid sick leave, including Canada, Israel and nearly every country in Europe. In the 113th Congress, there was legislation, H.R. 1286/S. 631 the Healthy Families Act, which would have allowed workers to earn paid sick days to use when they are sick, to obtain preventative care, to address the impacts of domestic violence, or to care for a sick family member.

Despite inaction at the federal level, states and localities are taking action to ensure some form of earned sick time. For example, in the last election, Massachusetts voted yes on Question 4, which allowed companies with 11 or more employees to earn paid sick leave. We were proud that a number of Reform rabbis and congregants in Massachusetts raised their voices in support of the ballot initiative. Rabbi Neil Hirsch wrote on op-ed on Question 4, Rabbi Matt Soffer sermonized on Question 4, and Rabbi Andy Vogel also wrote a piece on the ballot initiative, illustrating key arguments why they believe paid sick days are key for working families today.

Connecting the ideas of labor and health together is a Jewish dictum teaching that employers and employees have a common interest in workers' health and a mutual obligation to secure the wellness of labor force. We are taught that "one who withholds an employee's wages is as though he deprived him of his life" (Baba Metzia 112a). Indeed, in the case of paid sick days, a worker's pay is directly tied to his/her well-being. These values have inspired the URJ to offer paid sick days to its own employees.

As we learned from our tradition and from our modern-day rabbis, providing paid sick days is good for public health as well as for businesses. This policy lends much-needed support to America’s working families. We hope that in the 114th Congress, we will see positive change on this issue at the federal level.

Published: 12/24/2014

Categories: Social Justice