Worker Access to Paid Leave Benefits

by Jessica Nelson

March 5, 2018

In the United States, 72 percent of workers have access to paid sick leave through their employers. A slightly higher share has access to paid vacation (74%) and paid holidays (76%). This access varies between the public and private sectors. In private industry, about two-thirds of workers have access to paid sick leave and just over three-quarters of workers have access to paid vacation and paid holidays. Among state and local government employees, access to paid sick leave (91%) far outweighs access to paid vacation and holidays (60% and 68%, respectively).
These figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey, which includes very little detail at the sub-national level. Oregon is grouped with the Pacific West region, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Access to paid sick leave benefits is a bit more widespread in this area of the country compared with the national average. More than eight out of 10 workers in the Pacific West region have access to paid sick leave. Three-quarters have access to paid holidays, while 71 percent have access to paid vacation. Access to all paid leave benefits is more prevalent than the national average in the regional public sector, while the region’s private-sector workforce is more likely to have access to paid sick leave (82%) and slightly less likely to have access to paid vacation (72%) and paid holidays (75%).

Full-time workers – those working 35 hours per week or more at their primary job – are far more likely to have access to paid leave benefits than part-time workers. Four out of five full-time workers have access to paid sick leave, and even more have paid vacation and holidays. Among part-time workers, just 36 percent have access to paid sick leave, 35 percent have paid vacation, and 40 percent have paid holidays.

Union-represented workers are more likely to have access to sick leave and slightly more likely to have paid holidays, but union representation doesn’t seem to raise the access to paid vacation. Eighty-seven percent of union-represented workers had access to sick leave in January 2016, compared with 69 percent of non-union workers. Access to paid holidays reached 80 percent of union workers and 75 percent of non-union workers. The same share had access to paid vacation, at 74 percent in both union and non-union operations.

The workers with the lowest wages also have the least access to paid leave benefits through their employers. Access to paid sick leave has a direct positive relationship with earnings, with each step up in earnings quartile matched by improved access to paid sick leave. In contrast, for paid vacation and paid holidays, this relationship only holds for the shift between the lowest paid and the next quartile, with the highest half of earners having about as much access to paid vacation and paid holidays as the second 25 percent.

The size of the employer also influences the availability of paid leave benefits. This is especially true in the private sector, while public sector workers have a tighter range based on employer size. In the private sector, access to paid vacation and holidays improves as the employer size increases – workers at large employers are more likely to have access to these paid leaves than workers at smaller employers. In the public sector, there’s little variation in the availability of paid vacation and holidays by size; workers at smaller government establishments are about as likely as workers at the largest government establishments to be able to enjoy these forms of paid leave.
Overall, it is access to paid sick leave that varies the most by employer size. Fifty-nine percent of the workforce of the smallest employers – those with fewer than 50 employees – have access to paid sick leave, while 88 percent of workers at large employers with more than 500 workers have paid sick leave. Among the private-sector workforce, access to paid sick leave ranges from 58 percent of workers at the smallest employers to 86 percent of workers at the largest employers. Among the public-sector workforce, 87 percent of workers at the smallest employers had paid sick leave, compared with 93 percent of workers at the largest employers.

In the United States, most workers have access to at least some paid leave through their employers. This access improves with full-time work and access is the greatest for the high-wage workforce and the workforce of large employers.


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