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For Millions, Getting Sick Doesn't Pay

The U.S is the only major industrialized nation without a national paid sick-leave policy Some 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses. Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Singapore require employers to provide at least 10 paid sick days.

The U.S. government guarantees federal employees 13 paid sick days a year.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) proposed national legislation last month to allow workers—full and part time—to earn paid sick days to care for themselves and their families.

The bill creates a minimum requirement that lets workers earn up to seven days a year of paid leave to recover from illness, to care for a sick relative or to seek preventative health care.

A similar bill was in the House in 2004 but never made it to a full vote.

Supporters of such a law point to studies showing positive results from such regulations. A report on San Francisco's program said employment rose in the city after the law's implementation faster than in neighboring areas without the law. San Francisco was the first U.S. city to enact such a policy, in 2007.

(Read More: Why You Should Take Tomorrow Off)

A recent report found that Washington's mandatory paid sick leave law—enacted in 2008—has not prompted companies to leave the nation's capital, as was warned by some business leaders.

As for the fear by businesses that workers would abuse paid sick leave, the Center for American Progress reports that on average, workers who are covered take 3.9 days for illness and 1.3 days to care for relatives, while workers without paid sick days take an average of three days a year.

While some efforts have been successful to get paid leave laws enacted even at limited levels, it hasn't been easy.

New York's law became official only after the City Council overrode a veto by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who said the bill would cost too much for local small businesses. The law—which goes into effect next year—can be revoked if the city's economy suffers a downturn.

Failed attempts at mandating paid sick leave include rejections by the city councils of Milwaukee, Denver and Philadelphia. States including Alaska, Minnesota, Maine, Colorado and Alabama have all seen similar proposals go down to defeat in their legislatures over the last five years.

Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, signed a bill last month that in essence prohibits paid sick leave policies in the state. That bill was supported by Disney World and Darden Restaurants, among other business interests, according to reports in the Orlando Sentinel and elsewhere.

The law does provide for a panel to study the issue, however.

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