Workers Without Paid Sick Leave May Skip Cancer Screening Tests

Paid sick leave is time workers are allowed to spend away from their job to attend to their own or a family member’s medical needs without losing their job or any pay. Workers who do not have paid sick leave are less likely to get screened for cancer.

The study used data from the 2008 National Health Interview Survey, and responses from employed adults were examined. The study excluded workers who were self-employed, working without pay, working in a family business, looking for work, or not working.


More than 48 million workers (38% of the working population in the United States) lack paid sick leave. Workers in service or production jobs, workers in smaller companies, and workers with fewer years on the job were less likely to report having sick leave, while managers and professional workers were more likely to have paid sick leave.

Colorectal cancer screening. Workers with paid sick leave were more likely to have been screened for colorectal cancer with a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy (52.5%) than those without paid sick leave (47.1%). But there was no significant difference in the use of a fecal occult blood test between workers who had paid sick leave and workers without paid sick leave.

Breast cancer screening. Working women 40 years old or older who had paid sick leave were more likely to have had a mammogram in the last two years (83.3%) than those without paid sick leave (77%).

Cervical cancer screening. The study showed a small difference in the percentage of working women who had been screened for cervical cancer with a Pap test: 91.9% of those with paid sick leave had a Pap test in the past three years, compared to 89% of women without paid sick leave.

Seeking medical care. Workers with paid sick leave were more likely to have seen a doctor in an office or clinic for any reason in the last year (69.8%) than workers without paid sick leave (59.2%).

A person’s job has a major influence on his or her health. In the United States, the type of job a person has largely determines his or her health care benefits. This affects women more than men, since women are more likely to have part-time and low-paying jobs that don’t offer health care benefits. Lack of paid sick leave can prevent people from getting the health care services they need.


Peipins LA, Soman A, Berkowitz Z, White MC. The lack of paid sick leave as a barrier to cancer screening and medical care-seeking: results from the National Health Interview Survey.External BMC Public Health 2012;12(1):520.

Page last reviewed: September 13, 2018