When I first started working at MCI (more than 10 years ago) we got 30 sick days a year. Yes you read that right. 30! That’s a lot. Most people (at least those who were responsible employees) did not use the full 30 days each year unless they had a medical emergency or gave birth to a child. We got 30 sick days a year, but our short term disability was less than desirable so we needed those 30 days to be able to stay home after surgery or baby birthing.
When Worldcom bought us our benefits suffered slightly. Our annual sick days decreased from 30 days to 12 days. Although not 30, it was still a pretty impressive number of sick days. Our short term disability did not change. We still had to pay a small fee out of each paycheck to receive 66 2/3rd of our salary while we were on leave. And we only got that after we expired all of sick and vacation time. Which I never understood because why would they require a person to use all of their paid time when they had a baby. An infant who will likely get sick in his/her first year. And you then have no sick time to take off to care for said baby. But whatever.
Then (after Worldcom filed the biggest bankruptcy in the history of corporate bankruptcy and we changed our name back to MCI) Verizon bought us. Our sick days decreased again from 12 days to just 5 days (although to be fair we did gain a few personal days, but we also lost a couple of holidays — namely Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday and President’s Day). The first year after the merger my nose was acting up again. Between being out sick due to horrible headaches and awful colds that lastest weeks on end and then having surgery on my nose, I had to dip in to my vacation time for illnesses.
The next year they upped those sick days from 5 days to 8 days which I think is a good number of days for an average employee. Plus we now have free short-term disability where we get paid 100% of our salary. So that rocks.
Going from an amazing 30 sick days to a respectable 8 sick days was disappointing, but when I read that 43% of American workers don’t have any paid sick time I was feeling a little more grateful.
As it stands right now, employers don’t have to offer paid sick time. (In fact the only benefit employers are required by law to provide to employees is worker’s compensation.) Many employees are either going to work sick (where they try to work through debilitating headaches or in between vomit sessions while they also spread germs to their up-until-then healthy co-workers) or jeopardizing their jobs by staying home. The Family Medical Leave Act requires most employers to give their employees 12 weeks off for a major illness or the birth of the baby, but they aren’t required to pay them. So many employees can’t afford to take the necessary time off to recover.
An estimated 79% of low-wage workers and 80% of part-time workers do not have paid sick time, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C-based organization that based its analysis on U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
These low-wage workers are typically living paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have six months salary in savings for an emergency. When they get sick they don’t get paid. Which spirals in to not being able to pay their rent or buy food for their family. They get a month behind and can’t get caught up. Even just a couple of sick days can cost them their home.
But the good news is many states are now considering laws that require employers to give their employees paid sick time. And there is a bill (called the Health Families Act) with the federal government to try to require employers with 15 or more employees to grant 7 sick days a year for employees who work 30 hours a week or a pro rata for those who work less than 30 hours. This could be a burden on some small companies, but it would be a major plus for Americans who literally cannot afford to be sick.