North Carolina residents may not be aware that about 40 percent of the nation’s private sector workforce does not have any paid sick leave. Illnesses can develop at work for a variety of reasons, some of which can be related to the job. This means that ill workers continue to come to work and even end up leaving sick children at home because they cannot afford to take the day off and lose their wages. The reality of the sick leave and workplace illness situation is that workers who do not get sick pay are usually low wage workers and already struggling to make ends meet.

There are no federal rules requiring employers to give their employees sick leave. Instead, it is a public health issue — when ill workers show up for work or send their unwell kids to school, they end up spreading the illness. In fact, many employees contend that their employers expect them to work even if they are sick — 25 percent of workers who have been terminated were fired because they took time off to deal with their own illness or a loved one’s sickness, according to a study conducted in a large American city.

Some states have begun to recognize the importance of paid sick leave and have begun mandating state laws to ensure workers get time off, since legislation at the federal level is stalled. Some states have already adopted this legislation, and North Carolina is one of the states where a campaign is underway to mandate paid sick leave.

If this law is enacted in the state, it would greatly benefit low wage workers who do not have access to this benefit. In the meantime, North Carolina employees who have developed work-related illnesses, such as back aches or carpal tunnel syndrome, may be able to file for a workers’ compensation claim to cover their medical expenses and also recover wages for time taken off from work to recuperate.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, “Debate over mandated paid sick leave heats up with state, local legislative action,” Rhonda Smith, Mar. 10, 2014