Almost 90 percent of workers come in to work despite knowing that they’re sick, according to Staples’ annual Flu Season Survey. That’s up significantly from two years ago — despite the fact that there are policies we could put in place to reverse this trend.
One way that employers could reduce the number of workers coming in sick is by implementing telecommuting programs. Staples found that more than half of workers at companies with those programs were likely to stay home and telecommute during flu season to avoid spreading or contracting germs.
But 21 percent of those respondents said they still came in to work sick, even though they had the option of telecommuting, because they didn’t think working from home would be feasible. And as Staples points out in its press release accompanying the survey, worker productivity is drastically compromised when the worker is ill — not to mention that many types of work simply cannot be done from home.
So a more expansive approach to discouraging sick employees from coming in would be expanding paid sick leave. The data shows that this method is extremely successful in reducing flu transmissions between co-workers, which make up 11.54 percent of all flu infections, according to a 2013 study by the University of Pittsburgh. With universal paid sick leave access, 72 percent of employees stayed home for roughly two days on average, cutting flu transmissions by over five percent.
Instituting “flu days” — fully paid leave specifically for the purpose of recovering or avoiding the flu — was even more effective. Companies that offered just one flu day saw workplace infections fall by more than 25 percent on average, while companies that offered two saw infections fall by a staggering 39 percent.
Unfortunately, many companies don’t heed the evidence that paid sick leave is ultimately good for productivity and health. About 40 percent of private sectors workers and 80 percent of low-income private sector workers have no paid sick days. But some states and cities are trying to buck that trend. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop signed the country’s seventh paid sick leave bill into law on Monday, extending paid sick leave benefits to more than 30,000 workers who didn’t have them before.