Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

New study finds paid sick days are better for workers, businesses

PHOTO: M. McFarland

A new study shows paid sick days decreases flu transmission up to 40%. (Photo: M. McFarland via Flickr)

A new study by the University of Pittsburgh adds empirical data to what many of us already consider a no-brainer: when people have paid sick days, fewer people infect their coworkers with the flu. Specifically, the study shows flu transmission decreases up to 40% when employees are able to take two days off. Even one day off showed a 25% decrease in contagion among workers.

“Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers, ” says Dr. Supriya Kumar, the lead author on the study.

Studies like this make it clear that policies supporting employee health are critical to successful businesses. When employees are healthy, business owners can worry less about lost productivity and profit. This is especially important in customer-service jobs – think waiters, waitresses and sales clerks – who are in frequent contact with the public.

Previous studies have shown just half of sick workers will stay home if they do not have paid sick days and fear job loss. However, nearly 3 in 4 sick workers with paid sick days stay home when they don’t fear retaliation.

All workers should have the comfort of knowing they can come to a healthy workplace or stay home when sick, but statistics show that the overwhelming majority of low-income earners do not have this option. The National Compensation Survey reveals that only 20% of the lowest-earners have access to paid sick days, compared to 90% of the highest earning income bracket . This creates a greater risk of infection in low-wage earners, coupled with greater risk of unemployment.

The goal of safer, healthier schools and workplaces helped fuel the success of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance in September 2011, ensuring nearly all workers in Seattle would be eligible to earn paid sick time, regardless of their income.

Now, another Washington city is poised to prioritize public health with a paid sick days measure. The Healthy Tacoma coalition is working to ensure 40,000 Tacoma workers – who don’t have any paid sick days – have the right to earn them. With city council members, State Representative Laurie Jenkins, and over 30 coalition members including small business owners, civic and faith-based groups, and minority rights organizations, there are promising signs for a successful campaign!

 By EOI intern Elissa Goss

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