Contributor

Dr. Yanira Cruz
National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA)

Leaves That Pay

As policy makers gather to discuss the impending fiscal cliff, they will consider many ways to reduce budget deficits and the national debt. This discussion includes the future of health care. Rather than cutting benefits, one of the best ways to lower health care costs is to invest in workers’ health through policies that allow them to take paid time off in event of an illness or to look after a loved one who is sick.

That is why NHCOA has been working across states to raise awareness and empower Latino workers and older adults to advocate for leaves that pay laws at the local and state level. Leaves that pay policies are the best way to ensure that workers don’t have to choose between their family and their job. Job security and steady wages are crucial for the Hispanic community as many workers are also caregivers and heads of households.

With the flu season underway, it is likely that workers without paid sick days are going to work ill. This creates a toll on the individual’s health, but also makes possible the spread of the illness to those in the work or family environment. Similarly, there are also workers who do have leaves that pay, but don’t use it when they are sick because they are unaware of the benefit.

When workers can stay home to take care of themselves or a loved one while earning wages, both individuals and the health care system are better off in the long run. Leaves that pay enable workers to avoid spreading illnesses, and to manage minor health problems before they become serious or chronic.

NHCOA has been working to raise awareness among Latino workers in California, which has leaves that pay laws in place. While these workers are the ones who need leaves that pay the most, they are the least likely to use it in the event of an illness. In fact, according to a 2011 study by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman only 34% of Hispanic Californians were aware these laws existed.

Likewise, NHCOA has also been working with advocates in New York City to bring a leaves that pay bill, which was introduced more than a year ago, to vote in the City Council. As the initiative expands, NHCOA hopes to empower Latino communities in Southern Florida to advocate for a similar law, and to expand an existing worker disability law in New Jersey.