Workers’ rights activists across the country have been building support for mandated paid sick days for the past several years at federal, state and local levels. Requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees, typically around seven days per year for full-time workers, makes sense for employees, businesses and the general public.
Paid sick leave is a public health issue – the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which has done much of the most-cited research on paid sick days, found that employees who came to work while infected with H1N1 in 2009 infected over 7 million patrons, customers and coworkers. Paid sick days would enable these workers to stay home when they fall ill (or when they are needed to take care of sick family members), preventing the spread of disease.
Lower-wage workers are less likely to be provided paid sick days by their employers, even though they experience more obstacles than higher-salaried workers in finding childcare or taking off work and losing valuable wages that may force them to choose between medicine or groceries for the pay period.
Often missing from the discussion about paid sick days is its important value for individuals involved in abusive relationships or who are survivors of sexual assault. Violence prevention advocates often refer to paid leave as “paid safe days.” They can be used by survivors of abuse to seek medical treatment, counseling and shelter without losing pay or fearing retaliation from employers for missing work.
Allotting paid safe days to employees, especially knowing that abusers are often repeatedly physically, emotionally and sexually violent within their intimate relationships, seems like an undeniable resource survivors deserve. But Mike Rosen, a radio personality in Denver, where a referendum on paid sick leave will likely appear on the November ballot, dismissed the importance of paid safe days in a Denver Post editorial. He charged that because more women than men will be forced to take advantage of them, the policy isn’t worth employers’ support: “This is essentially about…female constituents. The paid ‘safe’ days are related to domestic violence issues. Men won’t be taking many of these.”
Although it’s true that men’s violence against women would comprise most need for paid safe days because of its frequency in comparison to violence perpetrated by women, Rosen flippantly misses the mark. We need to provide victims of intimate partner abuse, most of them women, any resources possible to empower them to seek help and simultaneously preserve their incomes, not selfishly dismiss their struggles because they are more frequently victimized than men.
Thankfully, paid leave coalition builders have achieved considerable success despite some detractors, having passed mandated sick days legislation in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and even most recently in the state of Connecticut. They are now targeting the cities of Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle and New York.
Advocates from the NC Justice Center attempted to pass mandated sick days in North Carolina in 2009, but the proposed law was defeated. However, an overwhelming 69% of voters nationwide supported paid sick leave laws in an IWPR study, and coalitions across the country continue to build steam and gain legislative victories. Hopefully the tides continue to turn toward policy that would protect survivors in our state, where more than 66,000 citizens received domestic violence support services in 2009 and 2010.