Paid Sick Leave Contributes to Health of Workers and Their Families

March 25, 2015|4:24 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

A white paper from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) finds that workers who receive paid sick and family leave are healthier, and so are their families and the public they serve.

MDH issued the paper this month in response to an inquiry from state legislators and as part of health policy analysis work by the department's Center for Health Equity. The paper reviews and summarizes available findings and evidence on the impacts of paid sick and family leave on the health of Minnesota. The paper notes that many factors contribute to health and emphasizes the importance of policies that shape everyday life, such as paid leave. Access to paid leave can often allow a family to weather a health challenge and provide an economically stable and nurturing home that promotes life-long health.

"Paid sick and family leave has significant public health benefits—not just for the workers but also for their families and their community," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger. "This paper shows how economic policies like paid leave impact health outcomes and affect health disparities."

Preventive Care and Maternal and Child Health

According to the white paper, paid sick leave is associated with many positive health outcomes for employers and their families. Benefits include faster recovery from illness, fewer on-the-job injuries, and timelier doctor visits that can prevent illness. Paid family leave is associated with better health for mothers and babies—including fewer infant deaths. These positive effects of parental leave on infant mortality only occurred when the leave was paid.

Health Disparities

The paper notes that Minnesotans do not have equal access to these benefits. Communities most impacted by poverty, unsafe or unstable housing and hunger are also disproportionately affected by lack of access to paid sick and family leave. About 60 percent of whites and Asians in Minnesota have access to paid sick leave, compared to about 50 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanics. There is also unequal access based on income, employer size, and education.

Food Safety

In 2013 about 79 percent of Minnesota's food preparation and serving-related employees did not have paid sick leave. This lack of paid sick leave for food workers and other direct service providers can contribute to contagious disease outbreaks. In Minnesota from 2004 to 2013, sick food workers were identified as the source or likely source for 208 foodborne outbreaks and 2,996 documented illnesses. The spread of diseases associated with ill workers also occurs in long-term care facilities, schools, child care, and group homes and treatment facilities.

Lost Labor

Research suggests that a lack of paid leave hurts employers through in lost labor time, costs related to the spread of illness and costs associated with recruiting and retaining employees. Lack of access to paid leave also adds significantly to employers' health care expenses and adds to the costs of public health care programs, the paper said.

In Minnesota, there are no federal or state requirements for employers to provide paid sick or family leave. Minnesota's White Paper on Paid Leave and Health concludes that research supports increasing access to paid leave to improve health and income, reduce disparities, and reduce disease outbreaks. It also notes a need for better state-level data regarding eligibility and use of paid leave.

This information was taken from a news release issued by the Minnesota Department of Health on March 13. Learn about ASTHO’s efforts in promoting the health of workers, at state health agencies in particular, on our Worksite Wellness in State Public Health Agencies page