West Virginia Needs a Healthy Workforce – Paid Sick Days Can Help
West Virginia is one of the least healthy states in the country. With the implementation of the ACA, roughly 270,000 more West Virginians have access to medical care. This increase in health care services is a huge step toward a healthy state, but access to medical care is only one piece of the puzzle.
Every day workers are faced with the impossible choice of going to work sick or staying home, losing pay and risking job loss. If they choose to go to work sick, their health suffers, contagious illnesses spread, companies lose productivity, and both health care costs and the cost of doing business rise. If they stay home, they put their economic security at risk. Just three and a half days of missed work because of illness is equivalent to an entire month’s groceries for the average family. This is enough to give any sick worker pause.
With this in mind, many states are taking steps to give workers more security with the introduction of paid sick day laws, allowing workers who fall ill to get healthy without jeopardizing their livelihood. While Connecticut is the only state that currently requires paid sick days, a number of municipalities have passed local ordinances requiring them, including Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Jersey City, NJ; Newark, NJ; and Washington, D.C. In addition, bills have been introduced in Washington, South Carolina, Nebraska, Maryland, Illinois and other states. In 2014 there were more than 20 active paid sick day campaigns across the country.
More than 260,000 workers in West Virginia, nearly half of its private sector workforce, are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill, while 40 million workers nationwide lack this basic protection. While workers at all ends of the wage spectrum are affected by a lack of paid sick time, those affected are heavily concentrated in low-wage service sector jobs.
Workers, businesses, and communities in West Virginia all stand to benefit from the implementation of a paid sick day law. Workers without paid sick time are more likely to go to work sick, and employers bear the cost of the lost productivity that results—a cost that may well exceed that of providing paid sick time. In 2006, nearly 4.4 million hospital admissions in the U.S., costing $30.8 billion, could have been prevented with timely medical care or adequate patient self-management. But workers without paid sick leave have to chose between working while sick, potentially worsening their illness, or missing a paycheck.
West Virginia has taken major steps recently to protect the economic security of its workers, from Medicaid expansion to raising the minimum wage. But access to health care means little if a sick worker can’t afford to miss work, and a better wage doesn’t help workers who lose their jobs because they can’t get well. A law ensuring that workers have the ability to earn paid sick time would allow workers to stay healthy and meet their responsibilities at work without compromising their economic security.