By Sarah Morgan
More states and cities are starting to require businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Just how much the days off are worth depends who you ask – an employer or a worker.
Connecticut became the first state to mandate that companies with more than 50 employees provide paid sick days, and others may soon follow suit, the Wall Street Journal reports. For the 60% of private sector workers who currently have the benefit, they take an average of three days a year, says Kevin Miller, a senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research who has studied this issue. For someone making $50,000 a year who takes the typical 3 days, the benefit is worth about $577 in gross pay.
Employers suggest they cough up even more for sick days: they report their average worker takes five days a year, according to a survey conducted by Mercer, a human-resources consulting firm. For a worker making $50,000 a year, those sick days would add up to $960. But companies may recoup those lost wages by sparing the rest of their staffs from getting ill, experts say. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, the lower productivity of people who come to work when they’re sick costs employers $160 billion a year, twice as much as the cost of actual absenteeism.
Of course, there’s a lot of variation between workers: “Something like half of workers that have paid sick days say they didn’t use any in the past year. And some people use a lot more,” Miller notes. Women tend to take slightly more sick days than men, in part because “they’re more likely to be the parent who has to stay home with a sick child,” he says. In San Francisco, where businesses are required to provide paid time off, the median number of days used was three for women and two for men, according to an IWPR study.
There may be some reason for workers who already have paid sick leave to hope it becomes a universal benefit, Miller adds. “The people who are least likely to have paid sick days are people who interact with the public,” he says: Retail workers and food service workers. Even those who can comfortably stay home when they get the flu “on their lunch break may still have to go get a sandwich from someone who may be sick,” he says.