Four States Now Have Paid Sick Leave—But the U.S. Is the Only Wealthy Nation Without a Federal Law

The good news for Oregon demonstrates on how far the rest of the country has to go.
Oregon State Capitol in Salem. (Photo: Nicola O'Keefe/Getty Images)
Jun 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Going to work sick is a real drag.

While you would rather huddle under the covers, alternating between naps and watching bad TV, you’re likely to face scorn from coworkers fearing infection from your cough or runny nose. Yet, without paid sick days, many Americans are forced to work when they’re feeling their worst. Luckily for workers in Oregon, the days of on-the-job sneezing could be numbered.

Legislation mandating up to five days of paid sick leave for companies with 10 or more employees passed in the state on Friday. All the bill needs is a signature from Gov. Kate Brown, and she is expected to sign it, Reuters reports.

Brown’s autograph would make Oregon the fourth state to have such a law, following Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts. For every 30 hours worked, employees would accrue one hour of sick time to care for themselves or an ailing family member.

An estimated 47 percent of Oregon’s workers in the private sector—and 71 percent of low-wage workers—don’t have paid sick days. And while some companies allow employees to stay home and miss a day’s pay, other workers face more serious repercussions, including termination, for staying home.

Oregon Republicans who voted against the law cited fear of its impact on small business owners and farming communities. But other states have found success with similar laws. Numbers out of Connecticut—which instituted its law in 2012—found that the majority of companies did not experience any financial burden. Rather, 30 percent reported an increase in employee morale, and 15 percent reported increased productivity.

Individual cities and companies have taken it upon themselves to institute such rules as well, with San Francisco paving the way in 2006. The Oregon cities of Portland and Eugene passed their own local ordinances in 2013.

And while more cities and states are jumping on the sick days bandwagon, the U.S. as whole still lags behind. Similar to our policies on parental leave, out of the 22 most developed and wealthy nations, the U.S. is the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. More than a third of American workers do not have access to paid sick days, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Not only does this put other employees at risk for getting sick, but it impedes a worker’s ability to rest and recover. It also negatively impacts parents or workers with older, ailing parents who need those days to care for their families.

President Obama addressed a need for a federal law during his State of the Union address this year, but there’s been zero progress so far.