09/11/2012 12:54 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2012

Lack Of Paid Sick Days For Immigrant Caregivers Could Harm Economy

In the United States, employers are not required by law to provide workers with paid sick days. As a result nearly 40 percent of the U.S. labor force have to choose between being paid at work or taking an unpaid day off if they or a family member are sick and require attention.

Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent)."

This is particularly troubling for the U.S. immigrant population, who often work jobs -- such as caregivers or farmworkers -- where there is a risk of spreading the illness widely if they do go to work sick.

There is currently a shortage of caregivers in the U.S. As the baby boomer generation ages, there will be more who need caring. Without basic benefits, such as paid sick days, fewer workers will choose to enter the field, further opening this particular field to immigrant labor who accept the risks in an effort to move up the economic ladder.

To illustrate the challenge facing families when the breadwinners do not have access to basic benefits, the National Partnership for Women and Families has produced a paid sick leave project called Support Paid Sick Days.

"Nearly two in five private sector workers -- about 40 million people -- don’t have a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses. Millions more lack paid sick days to care for a sick child... Either they go to work sick or send a sick child to school or daycare; or they stay home, lose pay and risk job loss or workplace discipline."

The Support Paid Sick Days project argues that providing paid sick days ought to be a minimum requirement for labor, as not having this option is actually more detrimental to the economy: raising health care costs as workers seek help only when they are much sicker, potentially harming more workers who are exposed to sick employees, and uprooting jobs as individuals seek work with such benefits, leaving employers and communities without workers' skills and disposable income.

"The lack of paid sick days has been tragic for the Latino community," Elisa Batista writes in her blog for The Huffington Post. "According to a study released last month, 5 million fewer cases of HINI -- a worldwide pandemic that claimed at least 11,000 lives in the United States -- could have been prevented if workers had the right to paid sick days. In the Latino community alone, 1.2 million cases could have been prevented if our workers had not felt compelled to go to work sick, and unintentionally infect their co-workers and families."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are currently no legal requirements for companies to offer paid sick leave, though the Family and Medical Leave Act does require unpaid sick days.