Workers Without Paid Sick Leave Suffer Mental Distress


Only seven states currently require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave.

In 15 states legislation has been passed to prohibit cities from passing laws to require paid sick leave. Many see paid sick leave as an unnecessary business expense, but recent research has shown that when workers do not have paid sick time, they are significantly more likely to suffer from psychological distress than workers who have paid sick leave. When these symptoms interfere with
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employees’ work, productivity slows.

Pros of Paid Sick Leave

Researchers from Cleveland State University and Florida Atlantic University teamed up to examine the impact paid sick leave has on workers’ mental health. The researchers focused on workers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64. The goal was to examine how the effects of exacerbated stress over being unable to properly care for themselves and sick loved ones due to a lack of paid sick leave impacts American workers.

Workers without paid sick leave were more likely to report that they experienced psychological distress and were 1.45 times more likely to report that their psychological distress symptoms interfere with their daily lives “a lot.”

The study consisted of 17,897 American workers. One of the study’s authors wrote that it highlights how paid sick leave is not just a health issue, but also a social justice issue. Male workers, low-income workers, Hispanic workers, and those without higher education were more likely to report having no paid sick leave and a greater level of psychological distress. This distress came from fears of losing wages and being terminated due to taking personal time off. High stress levels are linked with various physical health problems such as high blood pressure and fatigue.

Measuring Psychological Distress in Workers

To measure workers’ levels of psychological distress, researchers used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6), which uses a scale of 0 to 24 to gauge levels of psychological distress. On this scale, scores over 13 are correlated with mental disorders.

Workers with paid sick leave had a lower mean score than those without paid sick leave. Among those with paid sick leave, only 1.4 percent of respondents scored over a 12 and 3.1 percent of workers without sick leave had scores above 12. Control variables linked with an increase in expected level of psychological distress included having at least one chronic health condition, smoking, and younger workers.

Approximately 40 percent of respondents did not have paid sick leave. Half were female, more than half were either married or in cohabitating relationships, and approximately 75 percent indicated that their highest level of education included at least some college. Of the respondents, 79.1 percent worked full time and 82.7 percent had health insurance. More than 25 percent of the respondents fell below the poverty threshold for their income and household sizes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sid Gold
Mr. Gold is the principal shareholder of the Pennsylvania & New Jersey employment law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, which is a preeminent law firm in the field of employment law and civil rights litigation. His practice, as well as that of the law firm, is concentrated in the representation of both employees and employers in all aspects of employment-related litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including claims under federal and state anti-discrimination laws and federal civil rights laws.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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