A sick day today keeps the pandemic away.
The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us that paid sick leave is a critical public health tool, because we are all connected. The lack of paid sick days for all workers in Hawaiʻi comes at a cost to not only those workers and their families, but also local businesses, our overall economy, and our community’s health.
Every day, there are Hawaiʻi workers who are forced to choose between their paycheck and their health or their families’ health. Especially during this unprecedented public health crisis, it is critical that workers have paid sick days to recover, care for others, or to quarantine to help stop the spread of disease.
It’s time for Hawaiʻi to step up and guarantee paid sick days for all workers in our state.
It’s time to care. Learn more about paid sick days:
The lack of paid sick days is a threat to the public health and the economy
Without paid sick days, workers who can’t afford to go without pay have no choice but to show up at work sick or COVID-19 positive. They risk spreading disease and imposing costs on their employers through lost productivity and causing businesses to close.
Hawaiʻi’s economy won’t be able to re-open safely without getting COVID-19 rates down, and paid sick days are a crucial tool to make that happen.
Researchers have found that workers without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with a contagious illness than those who have paid sick days. And now, with the new more contagious coronavirus variants, paid sick days are even more important to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
A recent study published in Health Affairs shows how important paid sick days are in the fight against the coronavirus. From March to December 2020, the federal government provided millions of workers across the nation with paid sick days for the first time. When researchers looked into the effects of the law, they found that it was successful in “flattening the curve” by reducing infections by about 400 cases per day in states that previously did not have paid sick days laws. That averages to one case per day per 1,300 workers.
Even before the pandemic, researchers found higher rates of flu transmission among employees lacking paid sick days. In fact, a 2020 analysis found an 11 percent drop in flu-like illnesses in a number of states in the first year after paid sick days were enacted into law.
Hawaiʻi’s urgent need for paid sick days
The United States is the only wealthy nation without guaranteed paid sick leave. At the national level, many of the workers who interact the most with the public are the most likely to lack paid sick days, including 81% of those who work in food service and 75% of those in child care centers. In Hawaiʻi:
- Less than half (45%) of leisure and hospitality workers reported they had paid sick days in a 2019 Bank of Hawai‘i study.
- About two out of five (42%) of private sector workers in Hawai‘i lacked paid sick days, according to a 2015 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Missing work without pay due to illness can devastate families’ budgets, especially in the highest-cost state in the nation. According to the Economic Policy Institute, missing half a day of work can mean giving up a month’s worth of fruits and vegetables, two days is equivalent to a month of gas, and a week can lead to missing a month’s rent or mortgage payment.
Paid sick days protect children, schools, and working parents
When parents don’t have paid sick days, they have no choice but to send a sick child to school or child care. Parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely to send a sick child to school or child care as those with paid sick days. That risks the health of other children, teachers, and child care providers, leading to higher rates of contagion and illness for all.
Working women especially need paid sick days. Many have families to care for and can't afford to miss work or lose their job if they or their children get sick. Women make up:
- 63% of Hawai‘i workers in industries at the front lines of the pandemic
- 53% of workers at grocery, convenience, and drug stores
- 74% of those in health care
- 78% of those in child care and social services
Paid sick days are good for local businesses and our community
Hawaiʻi should join the growing number of states and cities that have passed paid sick days laws, as studies have shown that they lead to significant benefits for both employers and health systems.
When researchers looked at the effects of paid sick days laws in places like New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, they found little to no effect on businesses’ productivity or bottom lines, and that a majority of employers support such laws.
Cities like Seattle and San Francisco saw higher rates of business growth after implementing paid sick days than in neighboring jurisdictions that didn’t. Some analyses even found significant cost savings for employers, due to reductions in the spread of illness and resulting drops in productivity, as well as less job turnover.
Similarly, paid sick days have been shown to reduce health care costs for workers, employers, and the government. Workers without paid sick days are more likely to rely on public assistance programs. Those without paid sick days are more likely to delay health care, which leads to higher medical expenses and more frequent emergency room visits. That adds to the high costs of both private health insurance and taxpayer-funded health programs.
How would paid sick days work in Hawaiʻi?
- HB 2 would allow employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 7 days (or 56 hours) per year.
- Workers would start to accrue paid sick time on their first day of employment once the law comes into effect. They would be able to use paid sick time starting on the 90th calendar day from when they start accruing hours.
- If an employer already has a paid leave policy that meets the requirements of HB 2, they would not be required to provide any additional leave.
- Employees would be able to use paid sick days to care for their own illness or to care for a sick family member, to access medical care for themselves or family members, or to access legal or victim services in cases of sexual assault or domestic abuse.
- Family members include children, parents, spouses, grandchildren, grandparents, siblings, and hanai family.
- During a public health emergency, full-time workers would be allowed at least 80 hours per year of paid sick time (and part-time workers would be allowed a prorated amount).
- Workers would be able to use paid sick days if their place of work is closed due to a public health emergency or if they need to care for a family member whose school or care center has closed, or who has been told to self-isolate, due to a public health emergency.