Paid Sick Leave Benefits Help Alleviate Worker Financial Stress

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By Genevieve Douglas

Workers already stressed about making ends meet—or losing their jobs—feel that stress multiplied when they don’t have paid sick leave.

“When you don’t have leave, a day off of work can mean eight hours with no wages, and make someone’s job vulnerable,” LeaAnne DeRigne, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, told Bloomberg Law. “If you can be in trouble for taking a paid sick day,” and it puts your job in jeopardy, “then you’re really in a scary and insecure financial situation.”

DeRigne—along with colleagues at Cleveland State University—have published new research showing that employees without paid sick leave were 1.59 times more likely than workers with paid sick leave to be “very worried” about normal monthly bills, and were 1.55 times more likely than workers with paid sick leave to be “very worried” about paying rent, mortgage, or other housing costs. “This isn’t just about managing health, it’s about economics in the household, too,” she said.

Employees already are experiencing high anxiety levels, Todd Katz, executive vice president of Group Benefits at MetLife, told Bloomberg Law. In fact, 52 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck, according to MetLife’s 2018 Employee Benefit Trends study. “Connect that to fear of losing their income to illness in an environment where they’re already stressed,” and the effect on work can be enormous, he said.

The FAU-CSU study is based on over 17,800 survey responses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview survey. More than 40 percent of the sample size didn’t have paid sick leave, and more than 79 percent worked full time. More than half of the respondents were female, more than half were married, nearly three-quarters had some college education, and the majority (62 percent) were non-Hispanic white. The paper was published in the Journal of Social Service Research in October.

Employers Benefit, Too

Employees feel overwhelmed by financial decisions, and over half (53 percent) worry about their future because of their financial situation, Katz said. Providing sick leave benefits would alleviate one of those stressors, and workers are generally more loyal to employers that provide such stress-reducing benefits, he said.

Sick days aren’t just a benefit for employees, they’re also protection for the company, according to DeRigne. Even before workers fall ill, paid sick leave gives them the opportunity to take preventive measures, such as using leave to get a flu shot, she said.

Investing in benefits that reduce financial worry can create dividends for employers in today’s tight labor market, Katz added, because employees at all stages of life are facing big financial decisions. “Millennials are starting families, they’re buying homes, starting to build a financial future; Gen X folks are in the middle, sending kids to school and taking care of family; and boomers are ready to retire and may not be prepared,” he said.

“Many employers are in that war for talent,” Katz said. “I think employers are revisiting the question of offering paid sick leave.”

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