Currently, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave in the U.S., even with over one million Americans dead from Covid-19. Some states and local jurisdictions require it, but it needs to be a national requirement.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not require paid sick leave for its workers.


The United States is the only rich country that fails to provide any nationally-mandated paid sick leave (UCLA World Policy Analysis Center).

Of United Nation member countries, 181 provide paid sick leave in some form while 11 do not, including the U.S. So this places the U.S. along with nations like Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, and Somalia.

“We are incredibly isolated,” says Jody Heymann, director of the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA and the lead author of a newly published study (PDF) by the center of sick leave policies in 192 of the 193 UN countries. (The study didn’t cover North Korea, where policies couldn’t be determined.)

The World Policy Analysis Center determined that the U.S. lags behind much of the world in almost every measure of sick leave design.

The initial coronavirus relief measure passed by Congress — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act enacted in mid-March 2020— provided for two employer-paid weeks of emergency medical leave. Yet it exempted businesses with 500 employees or more and allowed small businesses with fewer than 50 workers to claim hardship exemptions.

Heymann stated that this made the U.S. the only country in the world that bases its paid leave rule on the size of an employer. (LA Times, 5-12-20).

“The big picture story is that when you exempt big companies and small companies, you’re missing vast swaths of the country,” Heymann says — an estimated 100 million workers. “Why would we possibly do that during a pandemic?” (LA Times, 5-12-20).

Heymann also says. “Paid sick leave pays for itself in increased productivity and fewer work hours lost due to disease.”

In a regular non-pandemic year, influenza costs the U.S. economy $11 billion, and food-borne disease another $15 billion, including what’s spread by food workers reporting to their jobs while sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that one in five food service workers had worked at least one shift while sick with vomiting or diarrhea in the previous year. (LA Times, 5-12-20).

The UCLA study mentioned above showed that the countries hit the hardest by the global pandemic were the ones that didn't offer paid sick leave from the first day of illness.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of all American workers have no right to sick leave at all; about 91% of state and local government workers are eligible for paid sick leave, but only 73% of the privately-employed.

“Paid sick days do a few things,” Heymann says.

“When people are out because they are so gravely ill that they would never go to work, they ensure that they have an economic safety net. That’s obviously crucial. But it also means that people who have mild symptoms of infectious diseases, but could readily spread it to others who might get severely ill, will stay home.”

Moreover, “the willingness of people to get tested when they have a mild cough and see if they’re going to need to be out of work for two weeks,” Heymann says, “that depends a lot on paid sick days.”

When it comes to pandemics, Heymann says. “This is not a problem that’s going away. We need to be prepared for the next one because we can’t afford to have to keep shutting down our economy like this.”


Paid Family & Medical Leave (A Better Balance)

Sick Leave in the United States (Wikipedia)

STATEMENT: Senate Fails to Deliver for Women and Working Families with the Inflation Reduction Act (A Better Balance, 7-28-22)

Emergency Paid Leave Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 - Frequently Asked Questions (USGS)

Nearly 200 businesses urge Congress to pass paid family leave (Washington Post, 3-23-21) Read Letter Here

Calls for Permanent Paid Leave Grow as Temporary Measures Fade (Bloomberg Law, 1-27-21)

The Need for Paid Leave Amidst Historic Unemployment and Caregiving Responsibilities (Bipartisan Policy)

Temporary Rule: Paid Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Department of Labor 2020)

Column: America’s pathetic sick leave policies are killing our coronavirus response (LA Times, 5-12-20)

STUDY: Protecting health during COVID-19 and beyond: A global examination of paid sick leave design in 193 countries (World Policy Center, 4-22-20)

One in five food service workers have worked at least one shift while sick (CDC, 12-5-16)

A quarter of all American workers have no right to sick leave at all (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)