Lack of earned leave hurts Minnesota families

Zack Eichten
Aug 05, 2016

Looking back on my childhood, I see that I was blessed. Whenever I was sick, my mom was able to take a sick day and care for me. But what about my peers whose parents did not have earned sick leave?

For many children across Minnesota, this worry is a reality. When they get sick, their parents are not able to stay home with them because they work in jobs that don’t offer earned sick leave. Often, the families least likely to afford time off without earned leave are also the least likely to have it.

We’ve talked about the importance of the ability to earn paid sick time and how it’s good for the economy, and a report from the Minnesota Department of Health takes an in-depth look at who has access to various forms of earned leave, with particular emphasis on sick leave. It finds that when Minnesota employees have access to earned paid leave, there is a positive impact on their earnings, health, productivity and economic security.

Currently over one million – or 4 out of 10 – Minnesota workers lack earned sick leave, and low-income workers who can least afford to take time off work are also the most likely to not have paid time off. Nationally, less than 40 percent of low-income workers have access to earned sick leave, and only 5 percent of private-sector low-income workers have access to paid family leave, according to the report.

Access to and participation in various forms of earned leave also vary greatly by race. For example, while 60 percent of white Minnesota workers have access to sick leave, only 50 percent of Black and 40 percent of Hispanic Minnesota workers have this benefit. This disparity likely reflects the fact that people of color are more likely to be working in low-paying jobs that lack any paid leave. Taking maternity leave, which is generally unpaid, is also correlated with race. While almost 75 percent of white working mothers in the U.S. took maternity leave after their last childbirth, mothers of color are much more unlikely to take time off with a new child. Only a little over 60 percent of Black and Hispanic working mothers took time off after having their last child.

Access to paid leave also varies by industry and employer. Only about 35 percent of service workers in Minnesota have access to earned sick leave. This contrasts with workers in the state and local government sector, 89 percent of whom have earned sick leave, or employees at private companies, at 61 percent.

Workers without earned sick time or family leave have tough choices to make. Do they go to work sick? Will they be able to stay home to care for a newborn? Those who do not have earned leave can potentially lose their jobs if they take time off work to care for a sick child, take an elderly parent to the doctor, or because they are ill themselves.

The effects of lack of access to earned sick leave are clear. There have been just under 3,000 reported foodborne illnesses in Minnesota over the course of nearly a decade. Many of these illnesses could have been minimized had these workers had some form of earned leave to recover quickly, instead of “toughing it out” at work so that they did not lose wages. With earned leave in place, workplaces would be healthier.

The Department of Health’s report also shows that employers benefit from providing earned sick leave. Earned leave can improve employee morale and retention, and helps recruit more skilled laborers. In addition, it reduces the costs due to lost labor and widespread company illness when employees work while sick.

The health and business benefits of earned leave are being increasingly acknowledged by policymakers. Minneapolis recently passed a sick leave requirement. They join five states, one county, 26 cities, as well as the District of Colombia that have laws so more workers can earn sick leave. As the Department of Health report shows, earned leave is both good for workers and good for business.

-Zack Eichten