Why Earned Sick Days Should Be the Law of the Land

By David Levine

Feb. 25, 2015

Many good companies have invested in good employee benefits packages that offer earned sick days.

Most human resources executives know why that’s important, because “presenteeism,” or people working while sick, costs $160 billion annually in lost productivity. Also, turnover costs for employees who leave for greener pastures can run as high as 150 percent of a worker’s salary by one estimate.

But the same executives whose companies offer earned sick days may think it’s not their problem if other companies don’t offer the same benefit. They may even think it’s good, because it gives them a competitive advantage to attract and retain the best talent.

But take a step back, look at the whole country, and the view is different.

For one thing, the cost of presenteeism is a drag on the entire economy, reducing tax revenue and consumer spending. Public health costs that go up as employees make co-workers sick and make themselves sicker are borne by all taxpayers. It’s not fair for companies that do the right thing to share the same costs as those that don’t.

For another, the United States as a nation is lagging behind. There are more than 145 other countries that offer paid time off, and we’re not one of them. Why should our economy continue to bleed billions of dollars at a time when we have more competition than ever?

More directly, other companies’ employees might be your customers. If they have to take sick time without pay, they will have less money to spend on your products and services. Business-to-business transactions can be affected when a company that loses money from lower productivity has less to spend on the services offered by another. Even a smart company that offers smart benefits can be hurt by the shortsightedness of others.

The good news is that Congress could be taking a step toward fixing this.

Called the Healthy Families Act, a proposed bill would require companies with more than 15 employees to provide paid time off up to 56 hours. Companies with fewer than 15 employees, workers would earn the same amount of unpaid, job-protected sick time. It wouldn’t affect companies with existing paid leave plans, and it would allow employers to request documentation for absences longer than three days

Many executives are reluctant to engage in political advocacy, fearing that it makes them seem partisan and that they’re using their power inappropriately. But this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of competitive fairness, both domestically and internationally.

Executives at forward-thinking companies that offer earned sick days are the experts. They’ve done the math. They know that the benefits far exceed the costs. They know that it’s better for everyone to have healthy, happy employees who can take a day off to recover.And because of that, they’re the best advocates for a bill like this.

David Levine is CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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