Upwards of 43 percent of Illinoisans lack paid sick leave

More than three-quarters of the lowest-wage workers in Illinois have no paid sick leave at all. (n!ck/FLICKR)
More than three-quarters of the lowest-wage workers in Illinois have no paid sick leave at all. (n!ck/FLICKR)

BY LESLIE PATTON – MEDILL NEWS SERVICE

As of Tuesday morning, there have been 286 laboratory confirmed cases of the swine flu, now referred to as influenza A (H1N1)infection by the World Health Organization, in the U.S.

While not exactly the same scenario, this outbreak is reminiscent of a flu that set off some mayhem in a Las Vegas hotel four-and-a-half years ago.

In October, 2004 a virus infected more than 1,200 workers and guests at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel. To stem the spread of norovirus, a contagious disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea, hotel management had a novel solution for its employees: six days off with pay.

The Clark County Health District in Las Vegas lauded the efforts of the sin-city establishment, owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. But what efforts are being taken by companies and organizations in Chicago to make sure the flu isn’t passed between those who can’t afford to take a day off? And what about parents who may have a sick child?

In Illinois, 43 percent of the workforce lack paid sick leave, while 28 percent of workers have no paid leave whatsoever, according to a study on the costs and benefits of paid sick days in Illinois by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C.

Employers in Illinois are not required to provide any paid time off to employees right now.

The Healthy Workplace Act (HB 3665), pending in the Illinois House, would help remedy this shortage of paid sick days. According to the Illinois Paid Leave Coalition, the act would:

  • Allow workers to accrue seven paid sick days per year.
  • Provide leave for an employee’s own illness, to care for the illness of a family member and for medical appointments.
  • Require employers to pay for this benefit when needed by employees, if the employer does not already provide the seven paid sick days.

 

The bill was most recently sent to the Illinois House Rules Committee on March 13 after being introduced on February 24.

The costs and benefits study concluded that the Healthy Workplace Act would save Illinois millions of dollars through improved public health.

  • Paid sick days would reduce the spread of serious contagious diseases such as the flu and norovirus.
  • Workers would save $3 million annually in health care expenditures just from lower flu contagion at work.
  • Getting timely medical care would improve care and treatment, reducing costs for providers and patients.

There will be a briefing on new outbreaks of the influenza epidemic by Dr. Jon K. Andrus of the Pan American Health Organization on Tuesday at 1 p.m. CST.

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