Across the Country, More Employers Adopt Paid Sick Leave, Including Mental Health Leave. What’s Happening in Your State?

Andy Baker-White, JD, MPH, Associate Director
The Network for Public Health Law – Mid-States Region

How many of us go to work when we don’t feel well? But going to work when sick has likely consequences, such as reduced productivity, higher risks of workplace injuries, spread of influenza and other diseases, and increased cost to employers. Some of these negative results may be avoided if employees have access to paid sick days.

Today, many employees are provided paid sick days either through employer policies, city ordinance, or state law. Also, as businesses and governments implement paid sick day policies and laws, the evidence of paid sick days’ impact is becoming very clear.

Who gets paid sick days?
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers get paid sick days, according to the March 2014 National Compensation Survey. However, the survey data reveals some stark differences in the availability of paid sick days among employees in different industries and positions. For example,

  • While 89% of local and state government employees receive paid sick leave, only 61% of private sector employees receive paid sick days
  • In the private sector, 82% of management, professional, and related employees receive paid sick leave versus 40% of service industry workers
  • 74% of private full-time employees have access to paid sick days, but only 24% of private part- time workers have access

While the disparities in the availability of paid sick days needs to be addressed, the number of private employers offering paid sick leave is growing.

In recent weeks, Microsoft announced a new policy that will require its vendors and contractors to provide paid sick leave and McDonald’s revealed its plan to offer paid sick days to employees at company-owned restaurants.

Government action for paid sick leave
Government action at the local, state, and federal levels continues to increase the number of employees with access to paid sick leave. Since late 2013, several cities have joined San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Portland, Oregon, in adopting ordinances and approving ballot measures supporting paid sick days. Eight cities in New Jersey, as well as Eugene, Oregon, and San Diego and Oakland, California, have adopted paid sick leave requirements for private employers.

Most recently, 82% of Chicagoans voted in favor of the City of Chicago using its authority to require employers to provide employees with paid sick time. At the state level, Massachusetts and California have joined Connecticut in mandating paid sick leave for employees.

Action for paid sick days is also happening at the federal level. This past January, President Obama ordered executive agencies to ensure paid sick leave for federal contractors. In Congress, the Healthy Families Act was reintroduced for the 2015-16 legislative session and, in late March, Sen. Patty Murray’s amendment supporting paid sick leave was included in the U.S. Senate’s budget resolution that passed with 61 votes. The increased action by federal policy makers is a sign that paid sick leave is moving beyond local and state concern and is becoming a national issue.

Evidence and opinions for paid sick leave
There’s growing evidence and opinion that supports paid sick leave laws and policies. In a recent article, Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, points out that businesses incur little to no costs from adopting paid sick leave policies. His article also points to a study of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law which shows that the law had a modest impact (or no impact) on the costs of business operations, and that many companies reported positive benefits including improved morale and reductions in the spread of illness in the workplace. The same study also reveals that concerns of employee abuse of paid sick leave were unfounded. Public opinion for paid sick days is also high. A 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows 81% of respondents supporting paid sick days for full-time employees.

With increasing evidence and awareness of the advantages of paid sick leave, the landscape is improving for employees nationwide. However, there’s still a long way to go before all workers have access, and it’s important that advocates, organizations, and businesses continue to push for equitable benefits on a national scale.


Your Turn

  • What has been the consequence for you or your colleagues of taking mental health sick leave at your workplace?
  • What has been the consequence for you or your colleagues of not taking mental health sick leave at your workplace?
  • How has your employer’s policy on paid sick leave evolved?
  • How will you advocate for the millions of Americans that do not have paid sick leave? 


Andy Baker-White, JD, MPH, is the associate director of the Network for Public Health Law’s Mid-States Regional Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The Network for Public Health Law provides direct legal technical assistance to and develops resources for public health practitioners, attorneys, advocates and anyone who is interested in using law to improve and protect public health.

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