Monday, August 1, 2011

Paid Sick Leave

Four in every ten workers have no paid sick leave. This single phenomenon has a major impact on public health. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified paid sick leave as one of the three most important ways to reduce the spread of illness in the community along with hand washing and proper food handling. Paid time off from work allows an individual to seek medical attention, recover from injury or illness faster, and tend to a sick child or adult family member without threatening family economic security.

Paid sick leave promotes better public health by eliminating the spread of illness when sick workers are on the job. They are clearly less productive, make more mistakes and are incapable of sustaining high quality services. Research shows that illness is frequently spread by contact in the workplace from worker to worker throughout all industries. This is particularly poignant in service industries in particular food services where both workers and customers are at risk. One in six Americans get food related illnesses resulting in 125,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. At least 20% of these cases are traced back to a sick food worker.

Most people who do not have paid sick leave are in lower paid or part-time jobs where no benefits are provided. The short-term economic impact of time-loss from the job makes people come to work when they are sick. They cannot afford to take care of a sick child or get them to a health care provider. Children are more likely go to school sick creating additional negative health impacts in the community. There is an economic and social impact on family income, child's education and school performance. The CDC recommends keeping children home for 24 hours after a fever subsides in order to limit the spread of disease and allow adequate time for recovery. Research confirms that sick children improve faster with a parent present. Adults recover faster when they are able to get access to health care and adequate rest. Return to work in less time and lives that are more productive are the dividends.

Paid sick leave changes the dynamic in important ways. It promotes public health decreasing the spread of illness keeping workers and businesses healthy. The return on investment by any metric is a positive economic and social benefit that far outweighs the alternative. Three municipalities have passed mandatory sick leave standards including San Francisco, Milwaukee, and District of Columbia. After several years experience with minimum sick leave standards in place, two thirds of employers support them and tens of thousands of workers have benefited. Job growth has been enhanced in these same markets by having these benefit standards in place. National data shows workers who do have a sick leave benefit accrue on average 9 days a year, but only use 2 to 3 days a year. Fear that abuse of a sick leave benefit is simply unfounded. Companies that provide paid sick leave report higher morale, greater productivity and fewer employees who actually come to work sick.

The lack of paid sick leave is a serious public health problem with many economic and social implications. There are many existing models for sick leave and its associated benefits. Policies that promote a better balance between work and personal health result in better employee morale, less turnover and improved public health.