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Health & Medicine Supports Paid Sick Leave for All Chicago Workers

Wesley Epplin
June 22, 2016
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group supports the policy of paid sick leave for all workers in Chicago. The proposed City ordinance passed the Committee on Workforce Development last week and is being considered by the full City Council this week.

As Health & Medicine’s Director of Health Equity, I co-chaired the community development committee for Healthy Chicago 2.0, the community health improvement plan for Chicago (note: community development goals, objectives, and strategies are listed in the Root Causes section of the plan).  Among the strategies in Healthy Chicago 2.0, local public health experts included support for the Working Families Task Force recommendation that paid sick leave be required for all workers in the city.

Many thousands of Americans die each year from influenza and other communicable diseases.  Paid sick leave is a commonsense, evidence-based policy, supported at the Federal level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Just last year, 82% of Chicago voters supported a nonbinding resolution on the citywide ballot.  

Ensuring that Chicago’s hardworking people have the opportunity to earn sick days would help us live up to our status as a global city, better aligning Chicago with many other countries that already require paid sick leave.  What these policies recognize is the basic science of communicable diseases: Reducing exposure to germs by providing anyone who falls ill–and that’s all of us at one time or another–allows people to get better at home (or care for loved ones) without the fear of losing income or employment because of it, while reducing the spread of diseases, such as influenza and colds.

Employees who are ill and do not have paid sick leave are much more likely to go to work and when they do, they’re more likely to infect others – when they go on public transit, when among their coworkers, and when they serve customers.   None of us wants to be served food at a restaurant or other businesses and service organizations by someone who is ill.  Chicagoans who become ill should be able to make a personal judgment to stay home and get better, or care for their sick child or other family, without a threat to their paycheck. There is no dignity or justice in forcing people to come to work when they are ill out of fear of losing wages.  

While there are some costs to providing paid sick leave on the front end, they are more than canceled out by the other costs associated with the spread of disease, a burden that taxpayers and businesses both bear. Healthcare expenses are far higher for people who cannot access timely preventive and primary care, as they seek care after health problems have gotten worse.  When people spread illness to others, it is costly to those who become ill and for employers when these employees are less productive due to illness.  

Paid sick leave can help reduce the transmission of illnesses, protecting health and saving money by reducing several of the costs associated with the spread of sickness. It protects health and saves lives—an invaluable savings.

We cannot continue to give people the false choice between (1) going to work while ill, or, (2) facing the financial burden of being docked pay or even risking one’s job by choosing to stay home when they are sick or are caring for a sick family member. Chicago can and should be better than that.  Requiring paid sick leave is evidence-based, data-driven policy backed by our local and national public health experts, and is supported by everyday Chicagoans. Ensuring paid sick leave will make Chicago more compassionate and it will save money by investing in people’s health and wellness.  Health & Medicine Policy Research Group urges the Chicago City Council to require paid sick leave for all Chicagoans.