Paid Sick Days Legislation Advances in Municipalities, But Many Workers Across the U.S. Still Lack Access

parent doctor with childBy Caroline Dobuzinskis and Jasmin Griffin

At the local level, there have been two remarkable victories for paid sick days this week. On Wednesday, Portland, Oregon, became the fourth city in the United States to provide paid sick days to its workers, after the city council voted unanimously to approve the “Protected Sick Time” bill. Philadelphia followed closely behind, with its city council approving the city’s paid sick days bill 11-6 on Thursday. However, the Philadelphia bill is likely to be vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter and needs 12 votes to override.

The advancement of earned sick days legislation is good news for communities and, although critics say otherwise, it’s also good news for businesses and taxpayers. According to IWPR research, released this month, Portland’s paid sick days law will help save the city’s employers more than $13 million per year and will also reduce health care costs. In Philadelphia, the bill “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces,” will bring a total savings of $52 million annually to businesses with nearly half a million in net savings to employers. These savings are largely due to reduced costs in turnover, reduced contagion in the workplace, and increased productivity.

Portland’s law requires private sector employers with six or more employees to provide one hour of accrued paid sick time for every 30 hours of work.  In Philadelphia, workers at businesses with 11 or more employees earn up to seven days per year, and those at smaller bus

inesses (six to ten employees) earn a maximum of four. In Portland, workers in businesses with fewer than six employees can earn up to five unpaid sick days per year; whereas in Philadelphia, workers for businesses with fewer than five employees are not covered.

Earned sick days laws provide workers with the opportunity to care for themselves or a family member in the event of illness. IWPR research has found that workers who have this provision have better self-reported health. According to both Portland and Philadelphia’s bills, earned sick time can also be used for preventative care, for example to visit their doctor during business hours, and to seek services in the case of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Under Portland’s new law, time may also be used in the event that a public official closes a school or place of business due to a public health emergency.

In Portland, currently only private sector employees who work an excess of 240 hours per calendar year are eligible for sick time. But many are pushing to have the state of Oregon adopt a earned sick time law, as well. Across the country, momentum is building behind paid sick days campaigns at the local and state levels. At the national level, Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Tom Harkin plan to introduce the Healthy Families Act in both the House and Senate sometime next week. The act would require that U.S. employers with 15 employees or more provide up to seven paid sick days per year to their workers. Evidence suggests that workers  do not abuse paid sick days policies and those who currently working for employers who provide them use only use two to three sick days, on average, in a given year. Having additional days can help workers who experience a health crisis themselves or have one in their family.

While many employees are provided paid sick days, low-income and part-time employees are less likely to have paid sick leave. This makes access to paid sick days of particular importance to women, who are more likely to work in those types of jobs and are now make up two-thirds of breadwinners or co-breadwinners in families.

Globally, this type of worker protection is not exceptional. According to a study by McGill University, paid sick days for short-term and long-term illnesses are provided for in at least 145 countries, 136 of which provide a week or more every year. IWPR research has found that paid sick days could save the nation up to $1 billion in unnecessary health care costs due to reduced emergency department visits. IWPR estimates that overall health care costs will be reduced by approximately $15.6 million annually in Portland and $10.3 million annually in Philadelphia, as a result of reduced emergency department use.

To the benefit of businesses and local economies, workers with paid sick days tend to be more loyal to employers. This means businesses don’t have to spend time and money finding and training a replacement when a worker leaves for a job with more benefits or to care for themselves or a family member. Research has shown that workers who experience a health care crisis are also more likely to return to their employer if they have a paid leave—more than twice as likely, in the case of women with heart disease. The reduced turnover costs-savings comes hand-in-hand with the added advantage that paid sick days bring to overall worker productivity. Sick workers only work at about half their normal productivity and this phenomenon, called presenteeism, costs businesses millions each year.

From a public health perspective, paid sick days reduce the spread of contagion between coworkers and customers alike, which could slow the spread of illness and limit the severity of epidemics—such as the spread of the flu that we saw just this winter. In 2009, according to IWPR estimates, as many as 7 million people were infected with H1N1 due to contact with a sick coworker.  Anyone who stops by a café or restaurant for a cup of coffee or a sandwich can be put at risk since only 23 percent of food service workers in the United States have access to paid sick days.

If the laws receive mayoral approval, Portland and Philadelphia will join other municipalities that now protect the safety and health of workplaces, schools, health care facilities, and communities through access to paid sick days. The bad news is that millions of workers across the country still lack this important benefit. The gains to all from paid sick days can no longer be discounted based on unfounded costs to business.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Jasmin Griffin is a Research Intern with IWPR. 

To view more of IWPR’s research, visit

Leaning In, Lifting Up, and Making Success Achievable for All Women

Jennifer Clark headshot 2013

By Jennifer Clark

A little over 25 years ago, Dr. Heidi Hartmann dashed between meetings and a part-time fellowship in a 1969 Buick with a couple of boxes of files dedicated to research on women’s economic security in the back of a rather sizable trunk. This corner of Dr. Hartmann’s Buick can safely be referred to as the first unofficial office of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The meetings she shuffled between were to unearth funding here and there for gender analysis on women’s role in a modern workforce. With a Ph.D. in Economics from Yale, Dr. Hartmann began her research career at National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council studying the underpayment of jobs typically done by women (for example, secretary, teacher, nurse). When she co-founded IWPR with other social scientists, she was driven by an awareness of the persistence of women’s inequality and economic insecurity, an awareness fostered by her upbringing in a single-mother, single-income household.

Still, there was a hesitation to jump into the all-consuming mission of establishing a sustainable research institute; Dr. Hartmann and her partner had three young children and raising a young family without her regular salary would have been difficult. But 25 years later, IWPR is no longer relegated to the back of a 1969 Buick. The think tank, one of the most preeminent on women’s issues, has proper offices in Washington, D.C., and has informed improved policies for women, from the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to countless state and local policies on paid sick days, early childhood education, and access to government services and benefits.

Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal
Dr. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR president and co-founder. Photo courtesy Chet Susslin, National Journal

In the context of the conversation of the moment about women in the workforce, most recently re-ignited by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Dr. Hartmann’s decision to launch IWPR could be described as her “lean in” moment. (Read Dr. Hartmann’s full Lean In story on Sandberg aims to encourage more women to “lean in” to their careers, rather than “lean back” when they decide to start a family.

The criticism against Sandberg has piled up quickly, as it tends to with successful women forging their own paths. In a nutshell, the critics say: Sandberg is too privileged—too much of the exception, not enough of the rule. To be sure, a lot of the criticism makes a fair point about who the Lean In movement aims to empower and who it doesn’t. The Lean In debate also seems to hinge on the tension between the structural barriers women face in the workforce—the gender wage gap, for instance—versus the individual, internalized social barriers—such as the confidence to negotiate a raise—that Sandberg aims to address.

IWPR signed on as a Lean In partner because we feel being part of this conversation is important. The history of IWPR, and indeed many women-led institutions, originates at the intersection of a desire for structural change and the realization of personal empowerment. The Lean In philosophy is certainly not a universal antidote for all working women’s lives, and that’s fine. As Jessica Valenti noted in her Washington Post piece about Sandberg and the feminist criticism she has received: “[T]he last thing the feminist movement needs is a leader who universalizes women’s experiences—this has been part of the problem with feminism in the past.” The problem is not that Sandberg is not speaking for a broader range of women; it is that a broader range of women’s voices do not have the same platform to be heard. Rather than dismiss Sandberg’s effort, we could strive to lift up the voices of other women along with Sandberg’s, ensuring that the evolving discussion about women and work is an inclusive one.

_We are leaning in because   _ WhiteIf Sandberg’s book aims to offer practical suggestions for improving the internal circumstances of women’s advancement in the workplace, then IWPR’s archive of over 600 publications aims to offer research-backed policy recommendations for improving the external circumstances of women’s advancement in the workforce. In a Venn diagram of these two approaches, at the center would be the concept of “support.”

One of Sandberg’s most controversial pieces of advice for young women is to seek out a supportive spouse who will accept a fair share of domestic and caregiving responsibilities. But Sandberg’s focus on support within interpersonal and familial relationships and on the personal challenges women struggle with internally, is just one part of the equation. The society-wide support women receive, or could receive, is the rest of the story. IWPR and its partner organizations have done a lot of work to quantify the structural challenges that limit working women, identifying opportunities to update policies for a modern workforce in the following areas:

– Paid family leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was a landmark law guaranteeing unpaid leave with job security for workers who needed to care for newborns, newly adopted children, and family members with serious health conditions, or for their own illness. Notably, the law did not guarantee paid family or parental leave. Currently, the United States is one of only a few countries in the world that does not guarantee some form of paid parental leave, joining Swaziland, Liberia, Sierra Leon and Papua New Guinea.

Gender wage gap. After steadily narrowing for a couple of decades, the gap between women’s and men’s earnings stagnated in the last decade. Last year, it actually widened. As evidence against the rationalization that women choose occupations in which they earn less, men earn more than women in almost every occupation, including 19 of the 20 occupations most commonly held by women.

Access to higher education. The best path to a job that pays a living wage capable of sustaining a family is through postsecondary education. IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative aims to inform institutional leaders and policymakers on the need for student parent supports—better access to affordable child care on campus, for instance—to increase postsecondary participation and graduation rates within the United States. (Even student parents are “leaning in.” Sarah Towne, a former IWPR intern wrote an impassioned story about her experience as a student parent on The Huffington Post. “I don’t plan on letting up on that gas pedal anytime soon,” she said of continuing her education.)

Women’s political and civic leadership. Building a pipeline of women leaders in a range of settings—elected office, union leadership, and community organizing—is key to ensuring a range of women’s voices influence and inform public discussion and policymaking affecting working women and families.

IWPR will continue—or should we say, lean into—this conversation on May 22 in D.C., when it will celebrate its first quarter century and launch its next 25 years with an afternoon symposium on the current and future status of women in the United States and abroad. The debate surrounding who the Lean In movement aims to speak to, and for, has sparked a parallel conversation about who it leaves out. At least in the context of IWPR’s work, I look forward to the conversation that moves beyond the who and tackles the how: How do we make success achievable for all working women?

Jennifer Clark is the Outreach Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

To view more of IWPR’s research, visit

An Advocate for Research on Women and Girls: Honoring Hillary Clinton’s Tenure as Secretary of State

Drew McCormick 2013By Drew McCormick

On this International Women’s Day, IWPR recognizes the valuable contributions that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made to the encouragement of research and data collection on women and girls around the world. While in office, Clinton characterized improving the rights and status of women as “essential to our shared prosperity and security.”

Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State will have lasting impacts on the status of women and girls throughout the world. Her efforts expanded the State Department’s agenda to include women and girls through program implementation and data collection. For example, in 2012, Secretary Clinton helped launch the Equal Futures Partnership, with support from 12 founding nations, with the goal of further engaging women in public life as leaders and beneficiaries of economic growth.

In a world increasingly focused on data and the implications of numerical results for international development Secretary Clinton called for an increase in research focusing on women and girls, pointing out that national economies thrive when women thrive—promoting peace and prosperity.

Organizations such as IWPR continue to collect valuable data on the status of women and girls.  IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa project conducted with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in partnership with regional organizations, explores the status of women in Morocco, Yemen, and Lebanon. The project also aims to encourage local NGOs to collect and disseminate their own data and research on the status of women and girls in order to better inform public policy. With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, IWPR and IFES produced a toolkit that serves as a guide to the collection, analysis, and promotion of reports on the status of women.U.S. Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton Visits South Korea

As part of the project, IWPR and IFES conducted original surveys in the Middle East and North Africa. Analyses of the data include topic briefs on women’s civic participation in Morocco, women’s freedom of movement in Yemen, and attitudes toward women’s economic independence in Lebanon. These data respond to the call from Secretary Clinton for more and better research to improve policy and practice.

In a world facing a “data revolution” the importance of compiling and putting data to work for women has become paramount. As Secretary Clinton asserted, we cannot simply rely on moral arguments in the fight for gender equality; data analysis and gathering are essential to the task of accurately representing the lives of women worldwide.

At a Gallup conference on data collection, Secretary Clinton said “We keep statistics on everything we care about, from RBIs to ROI, the daily ups and downs of the Dow and our bank accounts. So if we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analyzing the data that tell the tale.”

During her tenure, Secretary Clinton reinvigorated America’s global representation by meeting government officials around the world, travelling over one million miles to 112 countries. But aside from miles logged, her most lasting advances may well be in ensuring that research and data collection on women and girls remain at the forefront of foreign policy priorities. The increased emphasis on data collection has provided a platform for the many organizations that focus on the collection of data on women and girls. IWPR is working with other institutions to develop research to respond to the need both for data and for regional organizations to build their capacity to improve the conditions women and girls face.

Secretary Clinton’s ascent to public office has been remarkable and notable, perhaps most so because she is female. Women are still highly outnumbered as political leaders in the United States and abroad. A study from IWPR conducted by consultant Denise Baer with the Hunt Alternatives Fund explores the reasons why women do and do not run for higher elective office. Hillary Clinton ran a grueling, and almost successful, campaign for her party’s nomination for the highest office in the United States, President.

On this International Women’s Day, as we look to strengthen and empower women worldwide, we must also begin to look closer to home. With more women leaders taking the stage in the U.S. Congress, on the Supreme Court, and in the executive branch, the United States can proudly join other nations in expanding women’s roles across the globe.


Drew McCormick is currently completing a master’s program at The School for International Training in Washington, DC, and is working as a research intern for IWPR as part of her master’s work. Drew is interested in international development and the role that U.S. foreign policy plays in the lives of women in developing nations. 

To view more of IWPR’s research, visit