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Paid Sick Leave Benefits All Illinoisans

Written by Militza Pagan

The Illinois legislature is on the verge of passing paid sick leave for an estimated 1.5 million Illinois workers who currently have no such right.

The Healthy Workplace Act (HB 2771) would allow employees to earn up to forty hours of paid sick leave a year. The measure is currently awaiting House approval of Senate amendments.  The House should do so without delay.

Under the bill, employees could accrue sick time within a 12-month period at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked up to a minimum of 40 hours unless the employer selects a higher limit. Employees would receive their regular rate of pay for a sick day. They could use their paid sick leave to care for their own or a family member’s health needs, attend a doctor’s appointment, care for children when school is canceled or take off work for reasons related to domestic or sexual violence.

The legislation generally defines an employer as an entity employing one or more persons.  However, it does exempt certain units of government.[1] The act would not interfere with any collective bargaining agreements currently in effect.

Both Cook County and the City of Chicago have approved paid sick leave legislation that becomes effective July 1, 2017.

Paid Sick Leave Provides Economic Security to Illinois Workers and Families

Paid sick leave provides job and financial security for workers, particularly low-wage workers, women, and people of color.

Of the 1.5 million Illinois workers who still do not have access to paid sick days, an overwhelming number are low-wage workers. Low-income workers are less likely to be able to afford unpaid leave and are more at risk for being fired for their absence from work.

In Illinois, about 2.3 million people that live in or near poverty reside in households that are supported by a low-wage worker.[2] One survey found that one in seven low-wage women workers had lost a job because of taking a sick day to care for themselves or a family member.[3]

Low-wage workers no longer simply augment a family’s core income, rather they are the primary breadwinners of their families.  Workers earning low-wages continue to increase in their share of the overall workforce. In Illinois, 41 percent of all workers earn $15 or less,[4] a substantial increase from the past decade. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of households that rely on the income of low-wage workers. In a study of the Chicago metropolitan areas, the share of households that receive all income from low-wage earners was 56.7 percent, an increase of over 10 percent between 2001 and 2011.[5] In Illinois, over five million people depend on the income of a low-wage earner.[6] Seventy-three percent of workers earning $15 an hour or less are age 25 or older.[7]

Women and people of color are disproportionately represented in low-wage work. The number of low-wage African-American and Latino workers is disproportionately higher compared to their respective percentages of Illinois’ population.[8] While consisting of less than half of the workforce nationally, women make up a higher percentage of low-wage workers than men.[9]

Source: https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/poverty-in-the-us/low-wage-map/scorecard/?state=IL

Source: https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/poverty-in-the-us/low-wage-map/scorecard/?state=IL

Passing the Healthy Workplace Act would dramatically increase the number of workers, especially women and minority workers, who have access to paid sick leave. A year and a half after the passage of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law, over 90 percent of workers had access to paid sick days. The increase in employee access to paid sick leave was highest in the health, education, and social services (52.4%); hospitality (64.5%); and retail (49.8%) sectors. These are sectors where women and minorities are overrepresented.[10]

Providing paid sick leave to all Illinois workers would allow workers to take care of their families without worrying about their ability to support for their families.

Paid Sick Leave Promotes Public Health and Reduces Health Care Costs 

Paid sick leave can help reduce the spread of disease because it encourages workers to stay home when they are sick. Each week about 1.5 million Americans without paid sick leave go to work despite feeling ill.[11]

Nationally, providing all workers with earned sick leave would result in $1.1 billion in annual savings in hospital emergency department costs.[12] Workers will save $3 million annually in health care expenditures just from lower flu contagion at work.[13]

A large majority of employers—87 percent—report that employees who come to work sick have illnesses that are the most easily spread, such as a cold or the flu.[14] Research published in the American Journal of Public Health after the H1N1 swine flu epidemic estimated that employees who attended work while sick with the virus infected as many as five million of their coworkers.[15] If every worker in the United States received paid sick leave, flu rates could decrease by five percent.[16]

Sick employees with access to paid sick leave tend to stay home from work and take less time to recover from illness. Workers without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with a contagious illness than those with paid sick days.[17] In a Center for Disease Control study, 49 percent of food workers who had worked at least one shift while suffering from vomiting or diarrhea in the last year said that knowing they would not be paid if they stayed home influenced their decision to work while sick.[18] Another study using National Health Interview Survey data, along with focus group interviews, found that access to paid sick leave is associated with less severe and shortened periods of illness.[19]

Employees with access to paid sick leave are more likely to receive preventive care, which reduces health care costs. [20] One study found that workers with access to paid sick leave are more likely to undergo certain preventive procedures (including mammograms and endoscopies) at recommended intervals. The same study indicated that those workers are also more likely to have seen a doctor during the previous 12 months.[21]

Paid Sick Leave Benefits Businesses

Localities with paid sick leave policies experienced economic growth after the implementation of the law. San Francisco and New York City experienced job growth, increase in employment, and growth in businesses. [22] Seattle also experienced a growth in the number of employers.[23]

In fact, existing research shows that paid sick leave laws do not negatively affect the economy. In 2016, a comprehensive academic study analyzed data from every U.S. locality with a paid sick days policy to evaluate the claim that these laws cause decreased employment and wages. The authors found, with at least 90 percent statistical probability, that wages and employment did not decrease more than one percent across all localities.[24]


Paid sick time improves business productivity. Sick workers are unproductive workers. The cost to the national economy of lost productivity due to workers’ or their families’ health-related issues is $250 billion annually. Of this cost, 71 percent – close to $180 billion – was a result of lost productivity at work.[25]


Employers that provide earned sick days see lower levels of turnover.[26] A review of studies on turnover costs found the typical cost of turnover to be about 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary.[27] One analysis using the data collected by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that paid sick leave decreases the likelihood of job separation at least 25 percent and up to as much as 50 percent.[28]

Another study of female nurses with heart conditions found that those who had paid sick days and/or longer-term paid leave were substantially more likely to return to work after an episode than those without paid leave benefits.[29] Businesses that are able to retain trained employees will be able to avoid the costs associated with high turnover.

Worker Safety

Paid sick leave improves worker safety. Workers with earned sick leave are 28 percent less likely that those without it to be injured on the job. [30] The economic costs of workplace injuries among lower-wage workers – those who are least likely to have earned sick days – was more than $39 billion nationally in 2010.[31]


Overall, and taking into account the factors noted above, business that comply with paid sick time laws do not generally see a significant increase in costs. A Civic Consulting Alliance analysis predicted that a small increase of 0.7 to 1.5 % in costs to Cook County and Chicago employers when they comply with paid sick leave ordinances.[32]

A national study suggests that the cost to employers would be even less.[33] In a 2011 survey of San Francisco employers, more than 85 percent did not report negative effect on profits due to the city’s 2007 paid sick time law.[34] Similarly, nearly 70 percent of employers covered by Connecticut’s paid sick time law reported no or negligible increases to costs due to the law.[35]


There is a growing amount of evidence that shows paid sick leave benefits everyone. Paid sick leave ensures that workers, especially low-wage workers, do not have to sacrifice their paycheck or risk losing their job to recover from illness or take care of their family’s health needs.  Paid sick leave policies decrease the spread of disease and reduce health care costs. Businesses that offer employees paid sick leave increase productivity, have less turnover, and improve worker safety. These benefits can be realized with minimal costs to businesses and no negative effect on the economy.

Illinois would greatly benefit from the adoption of the Healthy Workplace Act.  The legislature needs to give its final stamp of approval to the legislation and Governor Bruce Rauner needs to sign the measure when it reaches his desk.

[1] However, it does not include school districts organized under the School Code, park districts organized under the Park District Code, or any City of Chicago Sister Agency under the Chicago Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance.

[2] Economic Policy Institute and Oxfam, “Few Rewards: “Few Rewards: Illinois State Scorecard,” https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/poverty-in-the-us/low-wage-map/scorecard/?state=IL

[3] Economic Policy Institute and Oxfam, Few Rewards: An agenda to give America’s working poor a raise, https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/research-publications/few-rewards/

[4] EPI and Oxfam, Illinois State Scorecard

[5] Marc Doussard, PhD, Chicago’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce, https://womenemployed.org/sites/default/files/resources/Chicago%27s%20Growing%20Low-Wage%20Workforce%20FINAL.pdf

[6] EPI and Oxfam, Illinois State Scorecard

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/17; https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/poverty-in-the-us/low-wage-map/scorecard/?state=IL

[9] https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/poverty-in-the-us/low-wage-map/scorecard/?state=IL

[10] Eileen Appelbaum and others, “Good for Business? Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Law” (Washington: Center Economic and Policy Research, 2014), available at http://cepr.net/documents/good-for-buisness-2014-02-21.pdf

[11] Austin Frakt , The High Costs of Not Offering Paid Sick Leave, New York Times.

[12] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/psd/model-paid-sick-and-safe-days-legislation.pdf

[13]  https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/B271.pdf

[14] National Partnership for Women & Families, “Paid Sick Days Lead to Cost Savings for All” (2015), available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/psd/paid-sick-days-lead-to-cost-savings-savings-for-all.pdf; Wolters Kluwer Law & Business CCH, “On the Job, But Out of It?”.

[15] Supriya Kumar, The Impact of Workplace Policies and Other Social Factors on Self-Reported Influenza-Like Illness Incidence During the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic (Washington, DC: American Journal of Public Health, 2012),


[16] Pichler, Stefan, and Nicolas R. Ziebarth. 2015. “The Pros and Cons of Sick Pay Schemes: Testing for Contagious Presenteeism and Shirking Behavior.” Upjohn Institute Working Paper 15-239. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. https://doi.org/10.17848/wp15-239

[17] Tom Smith and Jibum Kim, “Paid Sick Days: Attitudes and Experiences” (Washington: Public Welfare Foundation, 2010), available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/psd/paid-sick-days-attitudes-and-experiences.pdf;

[18] L. Rand Carpenter, Alice L. Green, Dawn M. Norton, et al., “Food Worker Experiences with and Beliefs about Working while Ill,” Journal of Food Protection 76 (2013).

[19] Human Impact Partners and San Francisco Department of Public Health, “A Health Impact Assessment of the Healthy Families Act of 2009” (2009), available at http://go.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/WF_PSD_HFA_HealthImpactAssessment_HIA_090611.pdf?docID=5101.

[20] United States Surgeon General, “Economic Benefits of Preventing Disease,” National Prevention Strategy (June 2011), http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/initiatives/prevention/strategy/appendix1.pdf.

[21] L.A. Peipins, A. Soman, Z. Berkowitz and M.C. White “The lack of paid sick leave as a barrier to cancer screening and medical care-seeking: results from the National Health Interview Survey,” BMC Public Health (July 2012), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22788387.

[22] John Petro, “Paid Sick Leave Does Not Harm Business Growth or Job Growth” (New York: Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, 2010), available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/psd/paid-sick-leave-does-not-harm.pdf; NYC Paid Sick Leave Law: First Year Milestones, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dca/downloads/pdf/about/PaidSickLeaveLaw-FirstYearMilestones.pdf

[23]  Jennifer Romich and others, “Implementation and Early Outcomes of the City of Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance” (Seattle: City of Seattle Office of City Auditor, 2014), available at http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/CityAuditor/auditreports/PSSTOUWReportwAppendices.pdf.

[24] Stefan Pichler and Nicolas R. Ziebarth, “Labor Market Effects of US Sick Pay Mandates” (Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor, 2016), available at http://ftp.iza.org/dp9867.pdf.

[25] Levin-Epstein. “Presenteeism and Paid Sick Days.”; Stewart et. al. “Lost Productive Work Time Costs From Health Conditions in the United States: Results From the American Productivity Audit.”

[26] Cooper and Monheit. “Does Employment Related Health Insurance Inhibit Job Mobility?” 28-44.

[27] Boushey and Glynn. There are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees.

[28] Heather D. Hill, “Paid Sick Leave and Job Stability,” Work and Occupations 40 (2) (2013): 143–173, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3825168/.

[29] Alison Earle, John Z. Ayanian, and Jody Heymann, “Work Resumption after Newly Diagnosed Coronary Heart Disease: Findings on the Importance of Paid Leave,” Journal of Women’s Health 15 (4) (2006): 430–441, available at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jwh.2006.15.430.

[30]Asfaw, A., Pana-Cryan, R., & Rosa, R. (2012). Paid Sick Leave and Nonfatal Occupational Injuries. American Journal of Public Health102(9), e59–e64. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300482

[31] Leigh. “Numbers and Costs of Occupational Injury and Illness in Low-Wage Occupation.”

[32] Chicago Working Families Task Force Report, https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2016/April/Working-Families-Task-Force-Final-Report.pdf.

[33] IMPAQ, Intl. and Institute for Women’s Policy and Research, https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMPAQ-Paid-Sick-Days-1-2.pdf

[34] Drago and Lovell. “San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees,” http://www.working-families.org/network/pdf/SF_Report_PaidSickDays.pdf

[35] Eileen Appelbaum and others, “Good for Business? Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Law” (Washington: Center Economic and Policy Research, 2014), available at http://cepr.net/documents/good-for-buisness-2014-02-21.pdf

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