Paid Sick Leave Impacts Women, Women of Color, LGBTQ Families & Domestic Violence Survivors — And Why We Must Pass It Now

When I worked at Harvard, I had phenomenal benefits, including paid sick leave. Outstanding. Stupendous. But when I stopped and thought about it, I realized it was the only job I ever held that did offer paid sick time. Having worked in retail and for small banks, sure I could take time off if I needed, although trust and believe, it was massively frowned upon and discouraged. But I wouldn’t get paid for it.

Years ago, when my abusive ex cracked my ribs after punching me, I still had to go to work. Now there’s not much that you can do for cracked ribs other than let them heal in their own time. It would have been nice to have taken time off to rest and heal. But I didn’t have that luxury. I had to go into work injured.

At one of my first jobs, I had another ex who stalked and threatened me at my job. If I had paid leave, I could have taken time off to file a restraining order.

Since I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck most of my life, I couldn’t afford to take time off and forgo my paycheck.

It’s time we must pass legislation ensuring paid sick leave.

As a fellow feminist and Massachusetts-based blogger, writer and activist Avital Norman Nathman reached out to me to write about this crucial social justice issue.

40 million people have no access to paid sick days. More than 1/3 of working women (37%) don’t have access to paid sick days. That means for many people, if they fall ill or their child gets sick, they must go to work as they can’t afford to miss a day’s pay.

Not having laws to protect and ensure paid sick leave has a tremendous impact on low-income women, women with children, and domestic violence survivors.

Last year, Connecticut (my home state!) became the first state to pass legislation ensuring paid sick leave. San Francisco and Seattle have also passed legislation for earned paid sick days and DC and Milwaukee have “safe” days for domestic violence survivors. Seriously, how does only one state and 4 cities have guaranteed paid leave??

Not only would paid sick leave legislation provide sick days for workers to take for themselves or to care for family members. It would also allow domestic violence survivors to take time off to heal physically and emotionally.

Paid time off should not be a luxury. It should be a guaranteed right.

Here in my state of Massachusetts, there’s a campaign to pass legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave. *Here’s what Avital Norman Nathan writes about paid sick leave in Massachusetts:

“Currently, the state of Massachusetts does not have a working mandatory policy regarding earned paid sick time in places of employment. As a result, many employees must make the devastating decision between potentially losing their job or sending a sick child to school (or going into work sick themselves). Thankfully, there is legislation that is currently on the table that would provide for earned paid sick time.

“The Earned Sick Time bill is a crucial piece of legislation that balances the needs of Massachusetts families as well as business owners, while also protecting the public health. This bill will not only strengthen our families, but balance the needs of our businesses, making Massachusetts a healthier place to live and work.

“There is already a lot of support for this bill, in fact – 72% of MA voters want earned sick time! There is even some political support. Senator Dan Wolf wrote an excellent op/ed for The Barnstable Patriot where he made the real world case for paid sick leave, while Springfield representative Cheryl Coakley-Rivera discussed how this is a social justice issue in The Republican.”

 *Here are just some of the benefits of the Massachusetts bill:                          

  • Paid sick leave in Massachusetts would lower healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits.
  • Reducing employee turnover, the spread of disease in the workplace and lost productivity – a $348 million annual benefit to Massachusetts employers, and a net savings of $0.89 per worker per week.
  • Reducing on the job injuries directly caused by employees who work while sick.

But Massachusetts isn’t the only state with a campaign to pass paid sick leave legislation. Campaigns are happening in states all across the country.

**How paid leave impacts working women:

  • “Nearly four in ten working women — more than 13 million — in businesses with 15 or more employees are not able to take a paid sick day when they or a family member are ill.”
  • Women-dominated industries — such as child care and food service – “are among the least likely to offer paid sick days.”
  • “Working women are more likely to have significant caregiving responsibilities, including caring for elderly parents, children or ill spouses/partners.”
  • “Women often lose pay or risk losing their jobs to care for a sick child, and low-wage working women are the most likely to suffer financially.” Women risk losing pay, disciplinary actions or losing their jobs.

**How paid “safe days” affect domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and stalking survivors:

  • Paid sick days would allow survivors to take time off to “address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.” Survivors need time off to file restraining orders, attend court dates, doctors visits, or to receive legal, financial or psychological counseling.
  • Each year, domestic violence survivors “are forced to miss nearly eight million days of paid work.
  • “In one survey of domestic violence survivors, nearly all the survivors surveyed—96%—reported that domestic abuse affected their ability to perform their job duties. 56% reported being late to work because of interference from their batterers.
  • Survivors need the financial security of job security and receiving pay for time off. “The loss of employment can be particularly devastating for domestic violence survivors because they often need financial security to ensure their safety and the safety of their children. Victims of domestic violence often stay with their abuser because they are financially dependent on that person.”

**How paid leave affects women of color:

  • Women of color are paid less on average—and low-wage workers are less likely to have paid sick days.
  • In many families, women of color are the primary source of financial support.
  • 40% of African-Americans have no paid sick days
  • 49% of Latinos have no paid sick days
  • Latino workers have the highest labor force participation rate of any racial or ethnic group but are more likely to work in occupations — food service, construction, personal care — in which workers do not have paid sick days.

**How paid leave impacts LGBTQ families and individuals:

  • “Approximately 1 million LGBT parents are raising 2 million children in the U.S.” Yet many employers do not consider LGBT families a “family” when it comes to benefits such as paid leave.
  • “Currently, there is no federal law that expressly protects people from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 21 states provide explicit sexual orientation protections to workers and only 11 of those states provide gender identity protections. This patchwork of state laws leaves 53% of LGBT parents raising kids with no protections against being fired simply for who they are.
  • “Approximately 97% of transgender people nationwide experience workplace discrimination and in 39 states it’s legal to fire someone because they identify as transgender.”
  • “African-American and Latino LGBT same-sex couples are more likely than their white counterparts to struggle economically while they are twice as likely as white couples to be raising children (38% of African-American; 27% of Latino; 16% of white same-sex couples).”

 **How paid sick leave helps — not hinders — businesses:

  • Paid sick leave would save businesses money by reducing employee turnover. It costs businesses an exorbitant amount of money to hire and train new employees. So it would be more productive and cost-efficient in the long run to offer paid leave, not to mention better for human rights.
  •  Paid sick days lower health care costs by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits. “Parents without paid sick days are five times more likely than parents with paid sick days to report taking a child or a family member to a hospital emergency room because they could not take time off work to get medical care during work hours. Universal paid sick days could save the United States an estimated $1.1 billion annually in reduced emergency room costs…”

 *Want to make a difference? If you live in Massachusetts, here’s what you can do:

Don’t live in Massachusetts? Contact your State Senator and State Rep.

* A huge thank you to the fabulous Avital Norman Nathman who wrote and compiled data on behalf of MotherWoman.

** Data obtained from Paid Sick Days, a Project of the National Partnership for Women & Families

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