Nearly half of Louisiana workers lack access to paid sick days. And, low wage workers are two and three times less likely to have access to paid sick days than higher wage workers. This means those who struggle the most to make ends meet routinely face an excruciating choice between caring for themselves and their families when they get sick or keeping their job. Louisiana can do better. 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought national attention to this and other longstanding needs for stronger worker protections and benefits. The ability to stay home when you’re sick without fear of losing your job or facing disciplinary action is essential for workers to comply with Centers for Disease Control guidelines during the current public health crisis. It’s also an important policy to help safeguard and promote public health before a health crisis begins, and a basic worker protection that should be available to all workers regardless of how much they are paid.

Yet, many low wage jobs that put workers in direct contact with the public and therefore at greater risk for disease exposure, are among those least likely to have access to paid sick days. For example, restaurant and retail store workers are among the least likely to be able to take a sick day, though they face high exposure rates to the flu and other contagious diseases, like COVID-19. 

Federal legislation helped make up for the absence of a comprehensive national or state sick leave policy during the pandemic. In states where workers newly gained access to paid sick leave through the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there was a reduction of about 400 fewer confirmed cases of Covid-19 per day. This translates into roughly one prevented case per day per 1,300 workers. Unfortunately, these provisions were only temporary. 

Research has shown that sick days are a simple and effective policy that benefits public health, workers, families, and businesses:   

Louisiana legislators have a chance to fix this problem 
A bill has been introduced this session that would help guarantee that workers don’t have to choose between their health and their paycheck. It would put Louisiana in line with 14 other states and the District of Columbia by establishing a basic statewide sick day policy for workers. 

  • Senate Bill 289 by Sen. Regina Barrow is a statewide solution. It covers full-time workers with up to 52 hours of sick time per year starting January 1, 2023. Workers would accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Workers in businesses with 5 or more employees would receive paid sick time, while people who work in companies with fewer than 5 employees would receive unpaid, job-protected sick time.  

Access to paid sick days is an important part of state preparedness for public health emergencies and safeguarding public health more generally. This is also a basic protection that will help workers and their families rebuild stronger and more securely after Covid-19 knowing that if they get sick, they have the time away from work to get better. 

– by Stacey Roussel

April 2022