Study Shows Workers with Earned Sick Days are Healthier, More Productive

June 19, 2013

By Lily Jamaludin 

In recent weeks, politicians have been making controversial decisions on earned sick leave bills. Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would mandate up to five days of earned sick leave for an estimated one million workers. And on Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill blocking local governments from enacting mandatory earned sick leave measures.

When politicians reject earned sick leave, they are putting workers’ health and business productivity at risk. A new study in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that seasonal influenza spreads among employees at a much higher rate when workplaces do not offer earned sick days.

The study bases its calculations on existing data showing that, 72 percent of workers who have access to earned sick days stay home when ill with influenza. In contrast, just 52 percent of employees without access to earned sick days typically stay home when infected with the flu.

The study models how the transmission of illness would be affected by two specific types of policies: 1) universal sick leave for employees; and 2) two paid “flu days” when employees can stay home if specifically ill with influenza.

The study demonstrated that:

  • Workplaces with universal earned sick leave would see a 6 percent decrease in transmission of influenza infections;
  • Workplaces offering two paid flu days would see a 40 percent decrease in transmission of  influenza infections; and
  • Smaller workplaces were more positively impacted by universal earned sick days, while larger workplaces were more positively impacted by flu days.

The study reveals that workers with earned sick leave are healthier overall. It complements other research demonstrating that mandated sick leave leads to more productive workplaces.

In 2010, for example, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy examined San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. It revealed that in the three years since the city implemented the nation’s first earned sick leave law, job and business growth have been higher than in neighboring counties without such a law.

Despite the compelling evidence in favor of sick days, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2012, 34 percent of the civilian workforce lacked earned sick days. In workplaces with less than 50 employees, only 52 percent had access to earned sick days. And for employees in the lowest wage quartile in 2010, only 33 percent had access to this crucial leave.

It’s not just up to individual workplaces to offer earned sick days. What we need are public policies—like those that have been passed in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Portland, and New York—that make earned sick days a mandate. The authors of the study point out that public endorsement of paid leave may increase the likelihood that employees will make full use of them. They cite a 2012 report by the Center for Women and Work, which found that employees’ usage of paid family leave in California increased across the board when the new policy was enacted—even in workplaces that had already made paid family leave available.

Upon signing the bill blocking paid sick leave, Governor Scott said in a letter that “the bill fosters statewide uniformity, consistency and predictability in Florida’s employer-employee relationships. These fundamental elements are essential to ensuring a business-friendly environment that supports creation. Having a job is the most important thing to any working mother or father and I will continue to fight for policies that encourage job growth.”

But if politicians truly value effective and productive business environments, they must value and support the health and wellbeing of their workforce. A healthy workforce is a more productive and more profitable workforce.  Employees and employers both win with earned sick leave.

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