A quarter of Americans say they always go to work even when they’re sick, according to a new survey from public health organization NSF.
It’s not necessarily that they prefer to be at work; many of the reasons they give are economic. Nearly 40 percent of workers say they go to work sick because they can’t afford to miss a day. Another quarter say they have to show up because their boss expects them to come in no matter what.
Coworkers also recognize these barriers to taking a day off: about 60 percent think sick colleagues who come in just can’t afford to miss a day of work, while only 16 percent think they come to work because they don’t care about the health of their colleagues.
The data are unfortunately unsurprising in a country that doesn’t guarantee that all workers can take a paid day when they or their loved ones get sick. The United States is the only country out of 22 developed peers that doesn’t have policies that make sure workers can take paid leave for illness. That leaves 40 percent of all private sector workers, and 80 percent of those in low paying jobs, without access to paid time off for sicknesses.
While some lawmakers have sought to remedy this with a national law guaranteeing that all workers can earn paid sick days, it has yet to go anywhere. So local governments have taken matters into their own hands — eight have passed paid sick days bills, including the state of Connecticut. Eight other states are making headway toward joining the group.
These laws make sense from a public health perspective, as they lead to a drastic reduction in flu transmissions. With universal paid sick leave access, nearly three-quarters of workers stay home, which cuts flu transmissions by more than 5 percent. It also makes sense for businesses, who stand to see lower turnover and increased morale and productivity, as well as the economy, as employment and business growth have remained strong or even gotten stronger under existing laws.