Women and Paid Sick Days:
Crucial for Family Well-Being
Dr. Vicky Lovell
Stepping Stones Research Briefing
Washington Area Women’s Foundation
The Urban Institute
May 16, 2008
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
Health problems make balancing
personal and work life more difficult
Balancing work with personal and family health-care
concerns is a major stressor for many working women.
Low-income women, including many single mothers, lack
the financial resources to access help or to afford time off
work without pay.
Women continue to be overrepresented in part-time and
low-wage positions, those least likely to offer employer
benefits such as paid sick days.
For too many women, being sick or having an ill family
member presents an untenable choice: stay at work when
you are needed at home or lose pay (and perhaps a job)
by staying home.
Women are still the primary family
caregivers, in sickness and in health
• 80 percent of mothers assume primary responsibility
for meeting their family’s health-care needs.
• 40 percent of working mothers
lack both sick and vacation
• Half of working mothers take
time off when their children are
• Half of those working mothers
who stay home with sick
children do not get paid for the
work-time they miss.
Millions of working women lack
basic sick days benefits
• More than 22 million working women in the United
States do not have paid sick days.
• Half of women working in the private sector have
no paid sick days.
• In the industries that employ the most women—
retail trade and accommodations & food service—
almost 9 million women lack paid sick days.
• One in every four low-income women
puts off getting health-care because she
cannot take time off from work.
Most of the ten largest low-wage
occupations for women have very
low paid sick days coverage
Percent of workers without paid sick days
50 43 42
Waiter s and Cooks Child car e Cas hier s Retail P er s onal and J anitor s and Receptionis ts and Maids and Nur s ing,
waitr es s es wor ker s s ales per s ons home car e aides building inf or mation aids hous ekeeper s ps ychiatr ic aides
Largest low-wage occupations for women
Paid sick days are good for
employers and for society
Workers stay in their jobs longer when
their family needs are respected.
Preventing involuntary job loss
increases workers’ economic security
and overall economic productivity.
Public health is protected when sick
workers and sick children can stay
Families can care for elderly relatives
and limit their nursing home stays.
Policy advocates are working to
expand paid sick days across the
Low-wage-worker and women’s economic justice
advocates lead coalitions in a dozen states and
in the U.S. Congress.
Increasing access to paid sick days can help
equalize women’s and men’s employment
San Francisco passed the first minimum paid
sick days standard, in 2006.
DC’s New Accrued Sick and Safe
Leave Act of 2008
Provides paid leave when workers are sick or to care
for sick family members; also covers absences
associated with domestic violence or sexual abuse.
“Family member” includes
• Spouse or domestic partner
• Parents and parents-in-law
• Children and children’s spouses
• Brothers and sisters and their
Workers not covered by DC’s new paid sick days law:
• Independent contractors
• Health care workers who choose to participate in a
premium pay program
• Restaurant wait staff and bartenders who work for a
combination of wages and tips
Workers in larger firms will have more days off:
100 or more employees = 7 days
Between 25 and 99 employees
= 5 days
24 or fewer employees = 3 days
Enhanced paid sick days policies
are achievable and feasible
Research shows that these
policies provide substantial
Paid sick days are congruent
with employment standards
such as the minimum wage.
Understanding and support are