Paid Sick Days and Paid Family and Medical Leave Are Not Job Killers

By Danielle Corley, Sunny Frothingham, Katie Bahn Center for American Progress

Paid sick days and paid family and medical leave have gained new momentum in the past several years as policymakers, businesses, and the public increasingly recognize the necessity of these policies for working families. In 2002, California became the first jurisdiction in the United States to pass paid family and medical leave. In 2007, San Francisco became the first jurisdiction to pass paid sick days. Today, five states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave laws and seven states, 30 cities, and two counties have passed paid sick days laws—including Washington state and Arizona, which passed ballot measures in November 2016. Access to paid sick days was further extended across the country in 2015 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order to provide an estimated 1.15 million federal contract workers with paid sick days. Additionally, businesses continue to make headlines as they adopt these policies on their own, citing their positive workplace effects. And American voters—across the political spectrum—have repeatedly shown strong support for these policies in public polling. Almost 70 percent of those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump support a national social insurance program for paid family and medical leave, alongside 89 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Yet even as states and cities across the country pass laws guaranteeing paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, too many families still do not have access to these critical workplace standards. More than one-third of private-sector workers do not have a single paid sick day, and only 13 percent of private-sector workers have paid family and medical leave. Furthermore, it is often the workers who can least afford unpaid time off from work who do not have access to these policies. Workers in the highest earnings quartile are more than two times as likely to have paid sick days and more than four times as likely to have paid family leave as those in the lowest earnings quartile.

In order to ensure access to paid time off for all working families, America needs a comprehensive approach to establish a national paid family and medical leave program and a paid sick days requirement. Despite growing support, much of the remaining pushback to implementing these policies comes from the fear that they will hurt businesses and the economy. Opponents argue that businesses may have to increase their prices or cut wages and jobs to meet the added benefits costs. Yet research has shown that paid sick and paid family and medical leave do not lead to unemployment, nor do they have other negative economic effects. In fact, there is evidence that these worker and family friendly policies support businesses and local economies by decreasing costly turnover, saving on health care costs, and boosting productivity. Furthermore, businesses in states and cities that have passed paid sick days and paid family and medical leave laws largely report that they have not seen negative cost impacts nor had to change their hiring and hours practices as a result of these policies.

While opponents may worry about the costs of providing paid time off, the cost of not having these policies in place is enormous. Previous Center for American Progress research shows that workers lose out on $20.6 billion in wages every year because of the lack of paid family and medical leave.12 An additional $1.1 billion per year could be saved through reduced emergency room visits and spending on public health insurance programs if all workers had access to paid sick days.13 Putting this money back into workers’ pockets would also have positive macroeconomic effects, as workers are more likely than businesses to reinvest their money in the economy through increased spending.

This report will review and build upon existing research supporting paid family and medical leave and paid sick days to demonstrate that these policies do not lead to increased unemployment. By showing that these policies are not job killers, continued progress can be made toward ensuring that all workers have access to paid time off and that families, businesses, and the economy experience the benefits of these policies.

Read the full report here.