One Quarter of American Workers Receive No Paid Sick Leave

March 3, 2020

Although many wealthy democracies across the world mandate paid sick leave for workers, the U.S. does not require companies to grant their employees any time off. About one in four Americans cannot take the day off if they fall ill, with many working in busy businesses like retailers and restaurants. As a result, medical experts fear that a disease like the coronavirus could spread even quicker if potentially sick people must continue going to work.

The nation’s lack of sick leave produces “a near-guarantee that workers will defy public health warnings and trudge into their workplaces, regardless of symptoms,” said Karen Scott, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specializing in workplace issues. “In this way, a manageable health crisis can spiral out of control.” The service industry has a paid sick leave rate of just 58 percent, leaving many child care workers, cooks, and wait staff with no option but to go to work in the event of illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, “1 in 5 food service workers have reported working at least once in the previous year while sick with vomiting or diarrhea.”

Recent studies show that mandating paid sick leave can reduce the chances of spreading disease in the workplace as well as the wider population. Many companies oppose such measures because of the high costs related to providing time off with pay. On the other hand, some experts say that businesses pay a much higher price in the long run if ill employees spread their sickness to colleagues and customers. In fact, research from the federal government shows that “providing paid sick leave to workers who lack it might help decrease the number of workdays lost due to flu and similar illnesses by nearly 4 to 11 million per year.”


  1. How could the lack of paid sick leave in the U.S. make a health crisis like the coronavirus potentially worse?
  2. Do you think the federal government should require companies to provide their employees with paid sick leave? Why or why not?

Source: Christopher Ingraham, “Our Lack of Paid Sick Leave Will Make the Coronavirus Worse,” The Washington Post, March 3, 2020.