OurCommonwealth has worked hard to create a strong health care systemthat can give all of our people the opportunity to thrive andcontribute productively to our economy. Yet for many working people,there are still barriers that keep them from leading healthy lives.Currently, Massachusetts does not have a statewide earned paid sicktime law, which would give employees time off to address pressinghealth issues. The absence of this workplace flexibility means thatmany workers cannot take the time off when sick, putting them at riskof not only losing their job or a days’ pay but alsoprolonging an illness or infecting others. This brief takes a look atearned paid sick time and its effects on public health.
In Massachusetts, about 1 in 3 workers do not have earned paid sicktime. And the least likely to have it are those working in industriesthat require frequent contact with the public such as the servicesector. In fact, over halfof workers in the service sector, which includes food and child careworkers, do not have earned paid sick time. And about one-third ofsales and office workers, such as cashiers and retail workers, do nothave any paid sick days. (For more see: EarnedPaid Sick Time– Frequently Asked Questions).
Workers with earned paid sick timereport better overall health becausethey can take time off to address a health issue or access preventivecare without risking losing their job or wages.1But thesebenefits go beyond the individual health outcomes of workers. It isalso important to consider the effects of not having access to earnedpaid sick time on the general public, families, and the workplace.
TheEffects on the General Public When Workers Go to Work Sick
Workers without earned paid sick time are more likely to go to workwhen they are sick.2In jobs that require frequent contactwith the public, such as food and retail jobs, illness is more likelyto spread if people report to work sick.3This not only putsworkers and co-workers at risk but also customers and the generalpublic. For instance, during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the risk ofgetting the flu was heightened due to the absence of workplacestandards like earned paid sick time.4This lack of protectionhampered workers’ abilities to rest and recuperate after theinfectious disease had developed.5In fact, the data suggeststhat during this period, workers in the private sector, where earnedpaid sick time is less common than in the public sector, were morelikely to go to work sick with H1N1.6
TheEffects on Sick Children When Parents Cannot Get Time Off to Carefor Them
Parents are more likely to send their child to school sick and seekmedical treatment at an emergency room if they cannot get time offduring normal business hours, when most doctors’ offices areopen.7This risks the child’s health as well as thehealth of classmates and teachers. In fact, about 1.3 million hospitalemergency room visits could be prevented each year in the United Statesby providing earned paid sick time to those who currently lackaccess.8(See: BalancingWork and Family: The Economic Effectsof Earned Paid Sick Time).
TheEffects on the Workplace When Employees Come to Work Sick
The Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends thatpeople with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after a feversubsides.9Yet, when employees do not have earned paid sicktime, they are more likely to come to work ill before fullyrecovering.10This affects workers because it delays recoveryand increases complications from minor health problems, potentiallyplacing additional burdens onto our health care system.11Furthermore, this increases the risk of accidents and spreadingillnesses to co-workers, all of which drives up theemployer’s health insurance costs.12In fact, thecost of people coming into work sick each year in the U.S. is estimatedat $160 billion.13
1Miller, K., Williams, C. & Yi, Y. (2011, October31). Paid Sick Days and Health: Cost Savings from Reduced EmergencyDepartment Visits. Institute for Women’s Policy Research: 9http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/paid-sick-days-and-health-cost-savings-from-reduced-emergency-department-visits
2Drago, R. & Miller K (2010) Sick at Work: InfectedEmployees in the Workplace During the H1N1 Pandemic. Institute forWomen’s Policy Research: 2
3Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress. (2010,March). Expanding Access to Paid Sick Leave: The Impact of the HealthyFamilies Act on America’s Workers.http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=abf8aca7-6b94-4152-b720-2d8d04b81ed6
4Kumar S, Quinn SC, Kim KH, Daniel LH, Freimuth VS (2011) TheImpact of Workplace Policies and Other Social Factors on Self-ReportedInfluenza-Like Illness Incidence During the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic.American Journal of Public Health 102: 134
5 Ibid., 134.
6Drago, R. & Miller K (2010) Sick at Work: InfectedEmployees in the Workplace During the H1N1 Pandemic. Institute forWomen’s Policy Research: 1
7Miller, K. & Williams, C. (2012) Paid Sick Days inMassachusetts Would Lower Health Care Costs by Reducing UnnecessaryEmergency Department Visits. Institute for Women’s PolicyResearch: 1http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/paid-sick-days-in-massachusetts-would-lower-health-care-costs-by-reducing-unnecessary-emergency-department-visits
8Miller, K., Williams, C. & Yi, Y. (2011, October31). Paid Sick Days and Health: Cost Savings from Reduced EmergencyDepartment Visits. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.:iiihttp://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/paid-sick-days-and-health-cost-savings-from-reduced-emergency-department-visits
10Farrell, J. (2012) Myth vs. Fact: Paid Sick Days. Center forAmerican Progress.http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/11/16/45152/myth-vs-fact-paid-sick-days/
11O’Leary, A (2012) Testimony before a Joint Sessionof the Washington State Senate Labor, Commerce & ConsumerProtection and House Labor and Workforce Development Committees.Economic Policy Institute: 5http://www.eoionline.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/family-leave-insurance/Testimony-AOLeary-Feb13.pdf
12Scheil-Adlung, X. & Sandner, L. ( 2010) The Case forPaid Sick Leave. World Health Report, Background Paper, #9. WorldHealth Organization: 4, 6, 18http://www.who.int/healthsystems/topics/financing/healthreport/SickleaveNo9FINAL.pdf
13Farrell, J. (2012) Myth vs. Fact: Paid Sick Days. Center forAmerican Progress.http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/11/16/45152/myth-vs-fact-paid-sick-days/