Despite the 24-hour nonstop work ethic of this digital age, employees aren’t machines. They have families, children, unexpected life events and sometimes they get sick. Unfortunately, too many in our workforce are unable to take a day or two away from work — without being financially burdened by a loss in wages or worse — to get well.
It’s an obstacle to real health care, the kind of care that rewards immediate, preventative actions that can deter the spread of illnesses; the kind that ensures a healthier and more productive workforce for the long-term. The kind that is humane.
President Obama called it out in his recent State of the Union address — the United States is the only developed nation on the planet that doesn’t require paid sick leave. Current labor law does not even protect all workers from being fired when they miss work due to illness. It’s a nationwide call to get up to speed.
Unlike decades ago, when labor laws around sick leave were written, we now live in a world where many households are managed by either single parents or dual-working parents. A sick child means the wage earner has to lose a day of work. And a week from the job can put a huge strain on the fragile budgets of the working poor. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which has dominated studies in this field, a staggering 71 percent of low-wage Oregonians (outside of Eugene and Portland) don’t earn paid sick time on the job. But no doubt they do live in fear of losing income or the job altogether, and they work when they are sick, jeopardizing their own health and the health of those around them.
The movement across this nation and here in Oregon to require paid sick leave is welcome and justified progress toward reforming our health care system. Portland began a paid sick leave requirement in 2014. It has not been without its detractors, of course, and they have their points that should be considered in crafting a statewide law. The administrative process should be manageable and small businesses should have some flexibility in how the sick days are applied.
The common complaint is that the statewide approach must not be a one-size-fits-all law. And we agree. Good paying jobs, a vibrant workforce and a strong economy require both healthy workers and healthy businesses. It’s important that Oregonian’s don’t have to choose between one and the other. Done right, paid sick leave is the healthy thing to do for businesses, workers and the whole community, and it’s the right example to set for the rest of the nation.