Many working Americans today must regularly choose between earning a paycheck or caring for themselves and their loved ones. Over 40 million working Americans lack paid sick days. Many of these workers not only forgo earnings, but also risk losing their jobs to stay at home to care for their children or themselves as they recover from short-term illnesses, such as the flu. Frequently employed in areas such as food service, retail sales, nursing homes and child-care facilities, these workers, when working sick, not only jeopardize their own health, but potentially that of the patients, customers and colleagues with whom they interact.
Longer leave needed for serious medical issues or the birth of a new child is an even more difficult issue. The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to covered workers and has been used over 100 million times since its inception. But since this leave is unpaid, many cannot afford to take it.
In addition, only a little more than half of the U.S. workforce is covered by FMLA since establishments with 50 or fewer employees are not covered by the law, and workers need to meet job tenure and hours worked requirements before becoming eligible. This situation is not only bad news for workers and customers, businesses themselves may experience decreased worker productivity and increased worker turnover when employees must put work ahead of health and family. As this issue gains attention, a number of states and localities are implementing or exploring paid sick or family leave laws.
In this conversation, panelists will discuss challenges faced by workers, parents and employers in managing this issue and explore ideas for practices and policies that can better support the workforce, families, and the economy.
- Ellen Bravo, executive director, Family Values @ Work
- Alison Earle, senior research scientist, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
- John Feehery, president of communications and director of public affairs, Quinn Gillespie and Associates
- Makini Howell, owner and chef, Plum Bistro Restaurants
- Brigid Schulte, social issues reporter, The Washington Post