Abstract: Calling out: The Impact of Paid Sick Leave Mandates on Worker Absenteeism (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Calling out: The Impact of Paid Sick Leave Mandates on Worker Absenteeism

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Meredith Slopen, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: American public sector workers almost universally have access to paid sick leave (PSL) – job-protected leave that can be used for the worker’s own illness, to care for an ill family member, for preventive care, or for reasons related to domestic violence. Many employers voluntarily provide their workers with PSL, however 37% of private sector workers lacked access in 2019. Latinx workers, low-wage workers, part-time workers, immigrants, and those who work in the service industry are less likely to be covered. In the absence of mandates, workers often face penalties and job loss in addition to lost income when they are unable to report to work, which incentivizes workers to attend work when they are sick, or to send ill children to school. Prior literature has found that PSL mandates may decrease the use of illness-related leave-taking through the reduction of communicable disease at the community level. In the absence of a federal-level policy, some American states and cities have enacted local PSL mandates. This study uses public sector workers as a comparison group to assess the impact of PSL mandates on workplace absences in states that implement mandates.

Methods: Data from the 2006-2019 Current Population Survey (CPS) Basic Monthly files, accessed via IPUMS, were used to identify workers and absences by reason-for-absence in the previous week in five states that implemented PSL mandates between 2009 and 2016. The sample was limited to fulltime workers ages 16-64 years. Difference-in-differences models were estimated to exploit variation in PSL coverage between public and private sector workers and the timing of PSL mandate implementation on illness-related-leave taking and overall absenteeism. Stratified analyses test for heterogenous impacts by subgroups most impacted by mandates.

Results: Between 2006 and 2019, 10.8% of workers reported at least a partial absence in the previous week: 2.2% of workers reported absences that were illness related. The implementation of PSL mandates led to an increase in illness-related leave-taking among private sector workers of 0.34 percentage points (p=0.08), but decreased absences for other reasons by 1.03 percentage points (p<0.05) and did not significantly change absences overall. Latinx workers significantly increased the rate of illness-related absences by 0.69 percentage points (p<0.05) and significantly decreased absences for other reasons by 1.68 percentage points (p<0.05), with no change in overall absences or for illness-related leave taking were observed for Black or White workers.

Conclusion and Implications: Mandates appear to increase leave-taking due to illness among private sector workers who otherwise are most likely to lack access to PSL, while not increasing overall absenteeism. These findings – which focus on workers most likely to gain coverage via mandates, support previous findings that PSL mandates do not adversely impact employers or employees. Deeper understanding of the impacts of PSL on workers and employers supports advocacy toward family supportive policies.