The flu epidemic that has swept the nation this winter is expected to be the worst outbreak of the virus in at least a decade, and the flu and other illnesses are hitting America’s workers harder this year than they did in the past. Nearly 3 million workers took time off because of illness in January, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most in any month since the winter of 2008, TODAY reports:
Nearly 2.9 million full-time workers only worked part-time during the week in which they were surveyed because of illness, injury or medical appointment, the BLS said. Also, more than 1.2 million people were off work for the whole week they were surveyed because they were sick, the BLS said.
That’s the highest level of people calling in sick since February 2008, when 1.3 million people missed a full week of work and 3.3 million full-time workers only worked part-time because of illness.
America’s lack of paid sick leave means many of those 3 million workers likely lost pay by taking time off due to illness, and the number who did take off would likely be higher if more workers had access to paid time off. 40 percent of private sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers don’t receive a single paid sick day from their employers; 79 percent of food and restaurant workers have no paid sick time. The lack of paid sick time makes the spread of viruses like the flu even worse: there were an estimated 5 million additional cases of the H1N1 virus in 2009 because workers couldn’t take time off, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
Lawmakers in multiple states and cities have pushed legislation that would provide workers with paid sick leave, but business groups have largely opposed those efforts, citing research that says the legislation would hurt businesses and job growth. Those studies are often flawed, though, as the cost to businesses is relatively small and there is no evidence that paid sick leave causes job loss. In fact, because paid sick leave increases worker productivity and decreases turnover while limiting the spread of outbreaks, it likely provides benefits to both businesses and the overall economy.