Rural Workers Often Lack Access to Sick Leave

Paid sick days for all would help employees meet work, family responsibilities, experts say

WEDNESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Rural workers are often forced to choose between their health or the health of a loved one and their jobs, researchers report.

According to the study from a team at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, people who work in rural communities have less access to sick leave, often forcing them to choose between lost pay or lost jobs and caring for themselves or a family member with an illness.

"Paid sick days are a central component of job flexibility for rural and urban workers alike. Everyone gets sick, and the lack of paid sick days can place workers in a bind, especially given that workers who lack paid sick days are also more likely to lack other paid leave options, such as vacation days," Kristin Smith, family demographer at the Carsey Institute and research assistant professor of sociology, said in a university news release.

Smith and a colleague reported that, in their study, 44 percent of rural workers were denied paid sick days. In contrast, 34 percent of suburban and 38 percent of city workers have fewer than five paid sick days per year. Similarly, rural workers are more often denied access to at least five days off to care for a sick child without losing pay or having to use vacation time.

"Many of these workers are supplementing lagging farm income with jobs that pay too little and lack basic workplace protections," Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Family Values at Work Consortium, a network of state coalitions, said in the news release. "Caring for their own health or that of a loved one should not cost rural workers a paycheck or a job."

Another key finding from the study was that rural workers who believe that people who use flexible workplace policies are less likely to be promoted have less access to paid sick days than those in the suburbs and cities.

"The lack of paid sick time disproportionately affects rural workers. The rural disadvantage is particularly pronounced among rural private-sector workers and part-time workers, but even rural full-time workers have less access to paid sick days than their urban counterparts. Increasing access to paid sick days for all workers could go a long way to help workers balance their work and family responsibilities," concluded Smith.

The findings were released July 11 at the National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave in Washington, D.C.

Because this study was presented at a meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has more on sick leave.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: University of New Hampshire, news release, July 11, 2011

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