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Sen. Harkin, Rep. DeLauro Introduce Healthy Families Act to Allow Workers to Earn Paid Sick Days

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence.

“A full forty percent of private-sector American workers have no access to paid sick days— meaning that they cannot miss a day of work without risking a day’s pay or even their job. When illness or emergencies strike, millions of hardworking people must make an impossible choice between the job they need and their or their families’ health and well-being,” said Harkin, who is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would have the security of knowing that they will be able to tend to their families and themselves without losing their jobs or their income.

“Paid sick days are also a matter of public health,” Harkin continued. “Seventy percent of low-wage workers—including food service, hospitality, nursing home care and child care employees—have no paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act can help stop the spread of illness, especially by those workers who have frequent contact with members of the public.”

“Everyone should be able to take care of themselves and their families when they are sick without having to worry about losing their jobs,” said Representative DeLauro. “But in today’s America too many of our workers are unable to do this and the economy suffers because of it. Showing up to work when you are sick costs employers a staggering $160 billion a year in lost productivity and further spreads sickness to others. Ending the current system will ensure people no longer have to choose between their health—or their families—and their paycheck.”

The Harkin-DeLauro bill would allow workers to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of paid sick leave. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Employers that already provide paid sick time will not have to change their current policies, as long as their existing time can be used for the same purposes. Employers can also require workers to provide documentation supporting any request for leave longer than three consecutive days.

As HELP Committee Chairman, Harkin championed the prevention and wellness measures that are included in the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this year, Harkin introduced the Help America Act, which includes critical public health and prevention initiatives to fight chronic disease, encourage healthier schools, communities and workplaces, and improve physical activity opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

DeLauro is a longtime advocate for policies that benefit working Americans, and has introduced the Healthy Families Act in every Congress since 2004. Her home state of Connecticut was the first in the nation to ensure service workers have access to paid sick leave.

Fast Facts on Paid Sick Days

  • Forty percent of private-sector workers, including seventy percent of low-wage workers, have no paid sick days. Nearly two-thirds of restaurant workers have reported cooking or serving food while sick.
  • A recent study from the University of Arizona showed that within four hours of a sick employee coming to work with a flu-like virus, more than 50 percent of office surfaces were contaminated with the virus.
  • Illness costs our national economy $226 billion annually in lost productivity.  The vast majority of this cost—71 percent—is due to “presenteeism,” the practice of sick workers coming to work and infecting their colleagues rather than staying at home.
  • Simply by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits, universal paid sick days would save the economy $1 billion in health care costs per year, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
  • In a 2010 University of Chicago survey, one in eight workers reported that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, written up or penalized—just for taking time off due to personal or family illness.
  • A 2012 study found that lack of paid sick leave is a barrier to receiving cancer screenings and preventive care; workers with paid sick leave were more likely to have a mammogram, Pap test, and endoscopy, and were more likely to have visited a doctor in the previous year, than workers without paid sick leave, even when adjusted for sociodemographic factors.
  • A 2012 study found that a lack of workplace policies like paid sick days contributed to an additional 5 million cases of influenza-like illness during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.