Paid Leave, Now!

Paid Sick Leave Would Reduce Mortality, Suicide, And More, Study Says

Paid sick leave doesn’t just save worker’s wallets. It also saves their lives, a new study suggests.

Originally Published: 
A person carries a briefcase and a surgical mask in an office

Cities, counties, and states that legally require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers have lower death rates than those that do not, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Data suggests that where employers are required by law to offer paid sick leave, there are fewer suicides and homicides in working-age men and fewer homicides and alcohol-related deaths in working-age women.

The research team analyzed data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 1999 through 2019 on deaths per county in people aged 24 to 65, then used statistical analysis to determine the correlation between mortality and paid leave statuses.

Shockingly, they found that for each additional hour of paid sick time, there was a notable reduction in instances of suicide and homicide for men and homicide and alcohol-related deaths for women.

In fact, the research team discovered that in Orange County in Florida, and in Bexar, Dallas, and Travis counties in Texas — counties where paid sick leave was attempted but then preempted by state governments — mortality rates would have been 7.5% lower among working-age individuals had the states not roadblocked paid sick time.

“State preemption laws that protect profits over people may be shortening the lives of working-age Americans,” study co-author Jennifer Karas Montez, Ph.D., said in a release. “We were surprised by how large the ‘preemption effect’ for paid sick leave mandates turned out to be. We project that mortality could potentially decline by over 5% in large central metro counties currently constrained by preemption laws if they were able to mandate a 40-hour annual paid sick leave requirement.”

The U.S. is one of only a handful of industrialized nations that does not have a federally mandated sick leave policy, leaving it up to states, municipalities, and individual businesses to set their own standards.

Studies have repeatedly shown that paid sick leave improves outcomes, both health and financial, for working-age people and their families. One study estimated that U.S. workers lost close to $28 billion over the course of the pandemic due to no access to paid sick leave.

Worryingly, 18 states in the U.S. have enacted laws to preempt local governments from mandating paid sick leave. And according to findings from New York University published earlier this year, more states have preempted paid sick leave than states that have enacted paid sick leave protections.

Lack of paid sick time requires workers to choose between taking care of themselves and earning a living. Some people’s jobs are even at risk when they fall ill. Workers who call in sick may face additional financial strain that can cause mental health issues that, in turn, increase the likelihood of suicide, drug use, or other unhealthy risk-taking behaviors.

“Our study adds to a growing literature pointing to the importance of states’ labor and economic policies on mortality of working-age adults,” lead investigator Douglas A. Wolf, Ph.D., Aging Studies Institute and Center for Aging and Policy Studies and Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, Syracuse University explained in the release. “The consequences of preemption laws stymie local government innovation, constrain opportunities to earn a living wage and take time off of work for medical care without financial repercussions, elevate the risk of death among infants and working age-adults, and contribute to geographic disparities in mortality.”

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