Costas, Wonkblog are Right: Going to Work Sick is a Bad Idea

By Liz Ben-Ishai

In today’s Wonkblog piece, “Bob Costas is right: Going to work sick is a terrible idea,” on the broadcaster’s withdrawal from NBC’s Olympics coverage, Sarah Kliff rightly points out that many U.S. workers go to work sick because they don’t have access to paid sick days, leading to high rates of costly “presenteeism.”

One of the most devastating aspects of this issue is that those who need paid sick days most—low-wage workers—are least likely to have access to them. Nearly 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers lack a single paid sick day. In fact, almost half of all workers making less than $514/week receive no paid leave of any kind (no personal leave, sick leave, family leave, or vacation). And the consequences for families’ economic security are severe: one in seven (14 percent) low-wage workers has lost a job in the past four years because they were sick or needed to care for a family member. For low-wage working moms, the number rises to almost one in five. Workers who can’t afford to lose wages or even jobs are forced to go to work sick, or send a sick child to school. To protect these workers, along with the public health and our economy, laws that guarantee employees the right to earn paid sick days are essential.

Around the country, advocates are successfully campaigning to pass such laws at the state and local level; hopefully, a federal standard will soon make it possible for all workers in the U.S. to have such protections.