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Are Employees Abusing Sick Days For Summer Fun Or Are Employers The Real Culprit?

Our guest blogger is Joanna Venator, an Economic Policy Intern at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

A recent MSNBC article cited a poll from Monster.com that claims 8 percent of Americans frequently call in sick to enjoy the summer weather, 11 percent do so occasionally, and 30 percent have done so once or twice in their whole careers. The article builds these unrepresentative statistics into the claim that summer hooky is a widespread phenomenon affecting the productivity of businesses. But is that really the case?

The MSNBC article paints a picture of employees sloughing off work to instead work on their tans, but most employees who have access to sick days do not actually use them. Worker with access to five paid sick days on average use only 2.4 of those days. Half of workers with access to paid sick days do not even use any of them. So MSNBC’s portrayal of workers abusing the system is a gross exaggeration at best.

In fact, data from the National Partnership for Women and Families show that employees are more likely to be the victims of unfair sick leave policies than to abuse the sick days they do receive. Some 40 million workers do not have the ability to call out of work even while sick, never mind for a day at the beach. Four in ten private sector workers do not have access a single paid sick day, and the ratio reaches 80 percent for low-wage workers. One in five workers report losing their job or being threatened with losing their job for taking time off while sick.

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By perpetuating this myth of rampant misuse of sick days, the article misleads readers and pulls attention away from the very real problems facing American workers. Workers without access to paid sick days are forced to choose between their livelihood and their health. Often, they choose to go into work sick, which is a loss for the employee, the productivity of the firm, and the health of the sick person’s coworkers and/or customers. The media’s focus should be on the millions of people who can’t take leave when they really need it, not on the non-existent ‘problem’ of summertime sick day abuse.