Accessing More Sick Leave for a Better Livelihood
Let’s talk about accessing more sick leave. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
According to most surveys, money is often the focus of job seekers looking to change careers or work remotely. Sick leave, family and medical leave, and mental health leave are the most under-negotiated and misunderstood aspects of salary.
Although pay is essential, many job seekers undervalue benefits such as sick leave until their physical or mental health or family need attention. Many workers don’t know these are negotiable aspects when talking about total compensation. These pieces should be negotiated when you can, and treated with as much scrutiny as pay.
The Paid Sick Leave Crisis
Millions of hourly workers whose employers do not offer sick leave are vulnerable to life-endangering possibilities. The underlying reasons, such as employers not listening to workers’ concerns or preying on workers, still seem to get buried beneath headlines and talking points.
At the same time, a national discussion continues of what constitutes a fair and flexible workplace.
All workers—but especially hourly workers—have a stake in the conversation about how companies should treat the subject of their workers’ health.
However, hourly worker counterparts in other countries benefit from sick, family, and medical leave laws.
How Other Countries Handle Sick Leave
The only equalizer for U.S. workers is to advocate for themselves when it comes to getting the right salary, and to protect their livelihood by asking about different types of leave, especially if they have children.
U.S. Federal law mandates regarding sick leave lag behind European countries such as Hungary, Germany, and Slovenia, so finding suitable job flexibility is imperative. Some states have passed laws requiring paid or unpaid sick leave, and each worker will need to discover how it applies. Countries around the world edge out the U.S. when it comes to providing paid sick leave and parental leave for their workers.
In Ireland, employers are required to give workers paid sick leave. Japan provides health insurance for those who are eligible who don’t have coverage through their work. Parental leave in countries such as Sweden, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia is generous and contains gender-neutral language to be equitable for fathers and mothers.
How Do Countries Pay For the Medical Expenses of Their Citizens?
Europe’s sick pay, in 22 countries, is surprisingly more straightforward than the U.S. as a universal healthcare model. It’s essential to understand how their universal healthcare works. Although every country will vary in how they pay, it saves the citizens lots of money compared to the U.S. model.
First, U.S. physicians are paid two times or more than in other countries; the average U.S. physician salary is $313K, in Germany the average is $163K, and those in Mexico make less than $50K.
Conversely, U.S. physicians pay much more for medical school and residencies, with some specialties costing more than others. Many physicians from outside the U.S. must do residencies or additional training here before practicing in the U.S.
Since medical costs are substantially lower compared to the lower salaries of physicians, they play a factor in the low prices of medical care for citizens. Many expats who move to Mexico for the lower cost of medical care are retired workers from the U.S. The costs of medical care are paid for by social security and public programs. The lower cost to U.S. retirees 65 and over as recipients of Medicare is comparable to Europe’s universal healthcare, but since the pandemic forced out many older workers 59 and over, health care expenses are burdensome.
In the 22 European countries with universal health coverage, there isn’t an age requirement for lower healthcare costs regardless of the type of leave. It is accessible to everyone of every age, gender, or work status. Countries with universal health coverage are not experiencing “The Great Resignation” as widely as the U.S.
Arguably, sick leave is not directly linked to complaints by workers as it is to Amazon’s Bessemer location employees’ deaths.
Unequal Access to Paid Sick Leave
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, private and civilian workers have the least access to paid sick leave—up to 25% of 154 million workers do not have paid sick leave plans available to them. These numbers pale in comparison to the sick leave available to state and local government workers, where 91% have access to paid sick leave plans.
Private and civilian workers also face a more significant disparity of cumulative sick leave. They can neither carry over time from year to year nor gain as much time as government workers.
Tragedies Shine a Light on Sick Leave
Worker safety in 2022 is not just providing exit doors and complying with fire safety rules. Safety is also providing the best response to health threats to workers while they are at work.
Recently, two workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama died within six hours of each other. Each had reportedly been denied sick leave; one died at the warehouse, and the other had to be rushed to hospital and died.
When other workers got wind of the deaths, Amazon management reportedly told them to go back to work. Amazon has not responded publicly to any inquiries regarding the deaths, communication to employees, or any media inquiries. However, two employees shared what they saw and knew, and an investigation continues.
Tragic events such as what happened in Bessemer, George Floyd’s death, and the ongoing pandemic have moved sick leave, mental health, and family medical leave to the forefront. These topics have become significant concerns in our work life and lifestyles in the United States.
Unfortunately, it seems as if serious concerns don’t enter the national debate until tragic headlines and political campaigns inspire discussion.
The “The Great Resignation” era has prompted a national debate about sick leave and a look towards other countries’ leave models. Workers by the millions have felt empowered and decided to quit and avoid companies that do not provide reasonable and fair benefits.
You Can Say No to These Jobs
Why would you take a job that doesn’t offer leave benefits?
That’s where researching a company provides an advantage. Understanding how the benefits offered will meet your needs and the needs of your family will help you to make an informed decision.
Even if you feel the money is right at a new position, flexibility in the leave policy may not be reasonable. You don’t want your life to be disrupted by not having sick leave or family or mental health leaves available when you need them. Little or no access to paid sick leave will cost you money and negatively impact your health and that of your family.
When applying to a company, consider its leaders who are open to a conversation about leave benefits. There might be press or, even better, employees who brag or evangelize about their company’s benefits. These add to the tools you can use to help you choose the right company and have a fulfilling livelihood. You can also beware of company’s whose workers’ complain about policy.
Change Is Happening, But We’re Not There Yet
In response to the pandemic, some companies got out in front of the possibilities by issuing expanded leave policies.
Other companies took a long time to respond to the pandemic, making it difficult for workers to take time off for themselves or care for family members. Meanwhile, well-established countries in Europe have much more favorable and equitable worker benefit laws and policies than the United States. Sweden, Slovenia, and Iceland have generous time-off laws.
Countries like Lithuania provide more than a year of paid sick leave at 62% of their salary. The U.S., considered one of the wealthiest countries globally, currently doesn’t have a federal law or policy offering paid sick leave benefits for every worker, although there are unpaid leave options mandated for eligible workers.
Sick Leave: Hourly Workers Are Looking for Better Options
Having to ask for permission to leave a workplace because the worker or their child is sick is antiquated. The workplace culture where leaving is discouraged and is perceived as controlling where there is time earned.
When a worker needs to go home urgently, employers and workers could work out the time issues later. There are options to handle requests to leave professionally and with compassion.
If employees see a coworker struggling, it becomes a distraction and disconcerting. Most of all, they will start thinking about how they might be treated if and when they have a need to leave work unexpectedly.
Some companies with hourly workers offered additional time off near the beginning of the pandemic. However, an overall lack of response to workers’ needs—especially for hourly workers—is one of the root causes of the Great Resignation, which has seen millions of Americans quit their jobs.
It’s only fitting that job seekers would not apply to a company that does not care for its workers. Occurrences that happen at companies like Amazon’s Bessemer facility could stain their brand for years to come.
Some industries are still experiencing attrition and a lack of applicants. Companies, such as those in the food and hospitality industries, without adequate staffing to serve their customers look suspect to outsiders. Anyone might assume a lack of staffing is due to their mistreatment of employees.
Family and Medical Leave Act: Job Protection
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal policy that provides unpaid time off to care for family or self up to 12 weeks a year without worrying about losing one’s job. FMLA is frequently used for unpaid maternity leave or serious health conditions. Unfortunately, FMLA is not universally available to everyone—only to eligible workers in companies with 50 or more employees.
Many other countries provide 24 or more weeks of paid maternity leave by law, compared to none in the U.S. to neither salaried nor hourly workers. Although, in many cases, companies with salaried workers are more likely to have a paid leave policy than those with hourly workers.
Many states, however, have been passing additional laws requiring paid sick leave and/or paid FMLA. As of early 2022, twenty states have at least some form of state or local laws to mandate paid sick leave.
It’s good to know if your state or local area has a law for paid FMLA. More states, cities, and districts are added to this list as they get passed in the local legislature. FMLA may be a complicated process to navigate, but we can hope it will become easier as more laws are approved. The Department of Labor provides a full explanation to help workers needing an FMLA leave.
Mental Health Leave: See FMLA
Half of U.S. workers suffer from mental health issues. Burnout is frequently reported, and there are companies making provisions to include it as a legitimate reason for time off or extended leave.
Due to stigmatization, many employees won’t tell their employers if they want to use sick time for mental health reasons. Better time off policies have not necessarily resulted in healthy dialogues nor provided opportunities for workers to feel comfortable requesting time needed to care for their mental health.
As with our physical health, workers may need to provide context around mental health situations. It’s vital to change the workplace culture to make it all right to tend to mental health.
COVID-19 significantly magnified psychiatric stressors that could impact anyone, not just low-earning workers. In one survey, only one of five employers offered mental health services to employees, including remote workers. Many remote workers especially needed support throughout the pandemic as they dealt with isolation and loneliness.
Get Informed Before You Apply
Here are a few ways you can learn more about a company’s sick leave policies:
- Look for reviews on job sites such as Glassdoor. It’s best to look for patterns and repetition and be careful not to overreact to emotional stories but separate fiction from fact.
- Use LinkedIn to connect with current and past workers to ask them about the current culture and leave policies.
- Google the company for press releases and announcements to see if they protect their workers. You can set up Google Alerts to help you monitor any discussions about the company.
- Use Twitter to monitor chatter from workers about the company and its leave policies. Using a Twitter client like Hootsuite could make it easier for you to see daily updates.
- Check the company’s website for statements about their policies.
It will also help to check if there are state or local laws to know your rights. If a company does not comply, then you shouldn’t apply.