By Chris Lewis
March 13, 2013
Caption : If Senator Tom Harkin has his way, no American will be forced to choose between wellness and wages.     


One in eight American restaurant employees show up to work despite diarrhea or vomiting at least twice a year, according to a 2011 study.

You want fries with that?

The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is trying to change that: Last month, he announced that he will introduce the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers to provide seven days of paid sick leave per year.

If it passes, the bill would be a huge win both for low-wage workers and American public health.

“Fifty to 90 percent of norovirus outbreaks can be traced to food service employees working sick,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of UC-Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center.

In total, 38 percent of all private sector workers in America don’t have paid sick days, and in the fast-growing food service industry, almost 90 percent of workers lack the protection. It’s no surprise those workers are prone to come in sick; calling out means losing wages and maybe even your job.

According to the Center for American Progress, workers with paid sick days are more likely to seek preventative health care, improving their own health and easing the burden on American emergency rooms.

Not everyone is on board with this idea, though. The Employment Policies Institute, a think tank that receives funding from the restaurant industry, surveyed 156 Connecticut employers—shortly after the state became the first to require that large employers provide paid sick leave—and found that about a third had cut back on paid leave, hours, or wages for their employees.

But other data suggest that the fear in Connecticut is overblown. “Tons of studies show that [paid sick leave] doesn’t kill jobs,” Jayaraman told Campus Progress.

According to economists Barbara Morgan and Ross Eisenbrey:

The first jurisdiction to set a paid sick days standard was San Francisco, where employers have been required to offer paid leave since 2007. Surveys show workers' lives improved, businesses succeeded, and two-thirds of employers support the city's sick-days ordinance.

Harkin plans to introduce his bill in the Senate this Spring.

Get updates on these issues and more! Sign up to receive email updates on the latest actions, events, and updates impacting 18- to 35-year-olds.