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Survey shows U.S. behind in sick pay, benefits

The United States lags far behind other nations in offering paid sick days, paid parental leave and other workplace benefits.
/ Source: Reuters

The United States lags far behind other nations in offering paid sick days, paid parental leave and other workplace benefits that proponents consider vital to public health and workers rights, according to research released on Tuesday.

The eight-year study found the most economically competitive nations offer forms of paid leave to workers that the United States does not, according to researchers at Harvard University and Canada's McGill University.

Of the world's 15 most competitive nations, 14 mandate paid sick leave, 13 guarantee paid maternal leave and 12 provide paid paternal leave by law, they said. Eleven provide paid leave to care for children's health and eight provide paid leave for adult family care.

The United States legally guarantees none of these policies to workers, the authors note. The findings are published in a new book, "Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth that We Can't Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone."

The issue of paid employee leave in the United States has heated up. Advocates argue paid leave allows sick workers to stay home without financial hardship and helps prevent workers from spreading such diseases as the H1N1 flu.

Advocates for women's rights argue paid family leave is essential for women, who tend to care more for family members than do men, to compete and advance in the job market.

Opponents argue that mandating such leave policies would cost jobs and be a financial burden on businesses.

"One of the questions that's consistently asked in the United States is ... will we be able to compete if we have paid sick leave, paid maternity leave?" said author Jody Heymann of McGill's Institute for Health and Social Policy. "Will there be more unemployment? Will we lose jobs?

"What we found is that none of these policies in any way impede being highly competitive or having low unemployment," she said.

The 15 nations are Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States, all of which have been ranked most competitive over the last decade by the World Economic Forum, she said.

Co-authored by Alison Earle, who was a research scientist at Harvard's School of Public Health, the book is published by Stanford University Press.

Looking more widely at 190 countries, the researchers found 163 guarantee paid sick leave and 164 guarantee paid annual leave.

Also, 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers, 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers and 157 nations guarantee workers a day of rest each week, they said.

The United States has none of these, they said.

Facing the U.S. Congress is a proposed Healthy Families Act, which has the support of the Obama administration. It would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.

Another proposed act, the Family Leave Insurance Act, would cover paid leave for care of a new child or ill family member.