In 2023, the United States of America does not guarantee any paid leave to its citizens—not a single day, not one dollar. That places us wildly out of line with our economic peers and far behind countries with considerably fewer resources. States and cities have stepped up to fill this gap while work continues to finally ensure paid leave for all federally. Yet, without a national guarantee of paid leave, Americans must hope for a generous boss or a supportive state—leaving too many people without the leave they need, living with the enduring ramifications of choosing between a paycheck, caregiving, or their own health.
Paid Sick Time
Nearly one in four private sector workers don’t have a single paid sick day. Those left out are disproportionately low-wage and part-time workers. Industries that are particularly important from a public health perspective are among the worst offenders. About half of all food service and accommodations workers have no paid sick time, making those who prepare and serve our food particularly likely to come to work sick, putting us all at risk. Similarly, fewer than one in five home care workers have any paid sick time, putting our most vulnerable at greater risk when those who care for them are forced by economic necessity to come to work while ill.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia, along with nearly two dozen cities and counties, have passed paid sick time laws. These laws give employees the right to earn time off to use when they or their loved ones are sick, hurt, or receiving medical care or treatment. Most paid sick time laws also allow this time to be used for certain needs when employees or their loved ones are experiencing sexual or domestic violence, a protection known as safe leave. In addition, Illinois, Maine, and Nevada have passed more general paid time off laws, which follow a similar model but allow the time off to be used for other needs as well as for sick and safe leave purposes.