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A day without pay

44 percent of workers employed in Oklahoma’s private sector do not receive paid sick leave

Am I too sick to work? Can I take the day off? For many Oklahomans, the answer to these questions is usually “no.” Private employers are not required to offer paid sick leave in Oklahoma. In the last legislative session, two bills that would have required paid sick leave in the state were introduced. Neither bill was even allowed a vote in their House committees, and that’s unfortunate. Denying workers the right to paid sick leave creates big costs for all of us.

In Oklahoma, 44 percent of workers employed in the private sector do not receive paid sick leave, meaning that a sick day is a day without pay. The workers least likely to have access to paid sick leave are also those who can least afford to lose a day’s pay. Only 39 percent of private sector employees in the bottom 25 percent of earners have access to paid sick leave (compared to 84 percent of workers in the top 25 percent of earners).

For all too many low-income workers, taking sick leave without pay can make it impossible to cover basic expenses. Even worse, it may lead to dismissal or discipline at work—Oklahoma is an at-will employment state, so workers can be fired for any reason, including taking a day off to deal with an illness. For workers who are already struggling to make ends meet, either possibility is dangerous. This means many of these workers will go to work despite their illness. This affects sick children as well. They may be sent to school so their parent can go to work. This is unnecessary, and it’s unhealthy.

Courtney Cullison is a policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute. Find the rest of this article and more at okpolicy.org.