Vermont is set to pass a paid sick leave law, joining just four other states in offering what is a standard benefit in most developed economies.
Already passed by the state's Senate and approved by its House Wednesday, the bill is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, who's been supportive of the benefit. The bill would give workers three paid sick days a year for the first two years after it goes into effect, increasing to five days after the third year.
The progress in Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' home state is just the latest sign that the momentum toward a national paid sick leave law is growing quickly. Since 2006, four states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon) and 24 municipalities have introduced the benefit. And more are considering it, including Maryland, Chicago, Michigan and Minneapolis.
Political support for paid sick leave divides as you might expect, with Democrats generally in favor and the GOP mainly opposed. Sanders and his Democratic rival for president, Hillary Clinton, both support sick leave. And the president has been a huge proponent. Republican contenders for president Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz oppose what they see as costly giveaways to workers.
The United States is the only developed country that doesn't offer some kind of paid sick time. A new analysis of 14 European nations' leave laws by jobs site Glassdoor provides some examples of policies overseas: The most generous benefit is offered up by The Netherlands, where workers can take up to 104 weeks at 70 percent of their salary.
In Germany, workers can take up to 78 weeks -- with 100 percent pay for the first six. The least generous paid sick leave law in Europe is in the U.K., where workers "only" get 28 weeks at a flat rate of £88 (about $126) a week.
Here in America, sick leave is viewed as a perk. That means that lower-income workers are the ones most likely to get none.
And that essentially makes paid sick leave a public health issue. Low-paid hourly workers in service industries like fast food and retail have no incentive to stay home when they're sick.
Only 19 percent of workers in the food preparation industry have access to paid leave, according an analysis released this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Nationwide access to paid sick leave could even lower the U.S. flu rate, according to one recent paper.
Recognizing this problem, a few forward-thinking companies have started offering paid sick leave to hourly workers -- including, notably, Chipotle, which publicized its relatively new benefit in an attempt to lure customers back after widespread issues with a salmonella outbreak.
Most Americans support paid sick leave, surveys have shown.
Opponents of paid sick leave -- and other paid benefits -- argue that offering the entitlement harms businesses and that workers would bear the brunt of the pain. But the evidence isn't quite there. Connecticut actually saw its unemployment rate drop after passing paid sick leave in 2012, according to this early analysis of the law.
Others argue that getting sick leave costs workers money because instead of giving you a raise, your employer will give you paid sick time. Surveys have also shown that most Americans are OK with that tradeoff, as well.
What's more, many business owners are happy to incentivize workers to stay home when they're ill -- and reduce the chances of those sick people making yet more people sick.
“Offering paid sick leave to our employees has been a great investment in our employees that our business has benefitted from,” Eliza Cain, co-owner of Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex, Vt., said in a statement. “It’s great to see Vermont making the same investment in all our people.”
Cain's company was one of 250 Vermont businesses that supported the Vermont legislation.
Even if paid sick days did hurt businesses slightly, it might be worth considering what we’d get in return: a healthier, less infectious work force. Studies also show that offering paid sick leave makes employees happier and more productive.
"There is no doubt that there is a cost to business, large or small, to provide paid sick days. ... Businesses routinely make investments in equipment that provides a benefit to their operation," Vermont state Rep. Mike Yantachka told the legislature in explaining his vote in favor of paid leave.
"Providing earned paid sick leave, a mere three days a year, should be considered a worthwhile investment," Yantachka added.