Don't offer paid sick leave? Expect ill employees to show up
- About 1.5 million Americans with no paid sick leave benefits come to work ill each week. In those industries where contagious diseases are most prevalent, such as healthcare and hospitality, nearly half of employees come to work with colds or the flu, reports the New York Times. Workers might be more inclined to stay home when they’re sick if employers have paid leave policies, a study in the Health Services Research journal shows.
- The same study estimates that nearly half of US workers don’t have paid leave. Employees, especially low-paid wage-earners who feel they can’t afford to miss one paid workday, often come to work sick, sometimes with contagious ailments. A Florida Atlantic University study found that 65% of families with annual incomes below $35,000 didn’t have paid leave, compared with only 25% of families with annual incomes above $100,000.
- Other studies suggest that paid leave slows the spread of infections in the workplace. Paid leave can also be used for preventive care, allowing workers to stay home when they feel flu-like symptoms or other illnesses coming on.
Paid leave isn’t mandatory for all in the U.S., as is the case for other industrialized nations. FMLA allows workers time off for medical reasons, but doesn’t mandate paid leave. However, employers are free to offer paid leave on their own. One business even lets employees take "unsick" days for preventative health.
Companies must weigh the cost of offering paid leave against the cost of lost productivity. A National Center for Biotechnology study shows that sick workers are more prone to job injuries and that those who work while sick are more likely to have heart attacks. Workers with paid leave, however, were at less risk.
Legislation on the issue has been successful in some places, particularly in New York City. Since a local law to mandate paid sick leave for businesses with more than five employees passed in 2013, 85% said it had no effect on business costs. In California, employers pay nothing for paid leave. Workers pay into the California State Disability Insurance fund and the Employment Development Department pays part of their wages.