Paid Sick Leave

“[I] couldn’t even walk or breathe and I’m like, I think I may have to go to the hospital, … So I called my boss… And I told ‘em, … I need to have the day off today, because I feel real sick… He was like, “No, I cannot give you the day off. If you don’t come in, I will give you 3 days of suspension” …and I went to work like that.” 

Laura, grocery store worker

Problem: Lack of Access

Lack of access to paid sick leave (PSL) forces millions of service-sector workers in the U.S. to choose between going to work sick (presenteeism) or losing their pay. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed attention to this critical workplace benefit, access to PSL remains highly limited and unequal in the service sector industry.

“My co-workers still work on days that they have a virus and they do get everyone else sick, because like, oh, they need that money that day.”

Worker’s quote

Shift Data point: 

  • Over half of workers at large service-sector firms have no PSL.
  • Lacking access to PSL is the norm among employees of large food service firms.
  • Service sector workers face high levels of economic insecurity, creating an often untenable trade-off between staying home while sick and making ends meet

“Workers show up sick because there is nobody able to cover for them, they feel guilty leaving their co-workers short-handed, they can’t afford to miss work, or they fear retaliation from management.”

 Daniel Schneider, New York Times

What can we do?

  • Company changes: There is dramatic variation across companies in access to PSL and when companies take the high road, they can really make a difference. 

Case study

We studied Olive Garden’s expansion of PSL during COVID-19 and found that changing to a high-road PSL policy effectively broadened access to PSL, as compared to other food service workers. 

  • Legislation: In the absence of a federal PSL guarantee, some states and localities have legislated labor standards extending this benefit to workers, though many others have not. When these laws are passed, it makes a big difference for workers.

Case study

Washington State PSL law expanded workers’ access to PSL among service sector workers by 28 percentage points. 

Impacts of PSL Access

High-road corporate strategies and PSL laws helped not only to increase workers’ access to PSL, but to reduce presenteeism, and narrow the gender gap.  

  • Presenteeism: Olive Garden’s expansion of PSL during COVID-19 reduced the share of employees working while sick, as compared to other food service workers, marking a significant public health impact during the pandemic, benefiting both workers and the public.
  • Gender gap: Our research suggests that state and local laws mandating PSL for workers are associated with a dramatic increase in access to this benefit, and gender inequality is eliminated. In the absence of such laws, 43% of men and 38% of women reported access to PSL. However, in states and localities with PSL laws, 70% of men and 69% of women reported access to this benefit.

Want to learn more?

At Shift, we have advanced academic research on PSL, and our data has been widely cited in the press and has become a “go-to” source for the topic, providing crucial inputs to legislators, policymakers, and advocates seeking evidence to support expanding paid leave.