A Lack of Paid Medical Leave Is Bad for Business

National paid sick leave will encourage productivity and boost the economy.

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Rosa DeLauro is a Democratic representative from Connecticut.

This month marks 20 years since the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since the law passed in 1993, workers have used the up-to-12 weeks of unpaid leave it provides over 100 million times—to care for their newborn children, to care for sick or injured family members, or just to get better themselves. It is time for us to take the next step forward, and to pass the Healthy Families Act, national paid sick leave legislation, which will ensure that every worker in America can take a day off when they or a loved one are sick.

Despite the arguments made against it 20 years ago, 9 out of 10 covered employers now say the Family and Medical Leave Act has had either a positive or neutral effect on their productivity and growth. But for all the good it does, the law provides unpaid leave, and, even now, many eligible workers cannot afford to take it—8 out of 10 by the most recent survey. In fact, 57 million Americans—including almost half of all private sector workers, 79 percent of low-income workers, and a full 85 percent of workers in the food service industry—cannot take time off work when they are sick, or when they need to care for an ailing relative.

[Read Michael Saltsman: Understand the Costs of Mandatory Paid Sick Leave]

Being a working parent should not mean choosing between your job and taking care of yourself and your family. This lack of paid sick days is bad for business, too. According to one study, our national economy loses $180 billion annually because of lost productivity, as a result of employees coming to work sick. That is because sick people are sick—and should be home where they can recover most quickly.

Paid sick days are also a matter of public health. Whether the contagion in question is a virulent flu or even a deadly epidemic like H1N1, we face a serious and fast-spreading health risk if sick workers, particularly those in service industries, cannot stay at home, or if they do not have the economic means to take their children out of school for a day.

For all of these reasons, 146 other nations already guarantee some form of paid sick days, including 19 of the 20 most economically competitive countries on Earth, with the United States standing out as the lone exception. Ensuring access to paid sick days is also supported by 86 percent of Americans.

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And in 2011, just as it led the way on the Family and Medical Leave Act over 20 years ago, my home state of Connecticut passed the first statewide paid sick leave law in the country. It is time to take this national.

The Healthy Families Act will require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave annually for their own medical needs, or to care for a family member. It is supported by a broad coalition of over 130 state and national groups, including the National Partnership for Women and Families, the American Association of University Women, MomsRising, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Women's Health Network, and the Business and Professional Women's Foundation.

Despite the arguments made against it 20 years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act has undeniably made our workplaces both more efficient and more family friendly. Today, we need paid sick days to help employees balance work and family, to encourage productivity, to boost the economy, and to protect the public health. The Healthy Families Act is common sense, it is business savvy, and it is the right thing to do.