During The Worst Flu Season In A Decade, Workers Across The Country Can’t Stay Home Sick

The 2013 flu season is in full swing, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, it will be the worst in ten years. The New York Times reported that “the country is in the grip of three emerging flu or flulike epidemics: an early start to the annual flu season with an unusually aggressive virus, a surge in a new type of norovirus, and the worst whooping cough outbreak in 60 years.”

The CDC recommends that those who experience flu-like symptoms “should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.” However, for a huge number of American workers, that option doesn’t exist due to a lack of paid sick days. 40 percent of private sector workers and a whopping 80 percent of low-income workers do not have a single paid sick day. One in five workers reports losing their job or being threatened with dismissal for wanting to take time off while sick.

This problem is especially acute in the food industry, with its high potential for spreading disease. 79 percent of food workers say they have no paid sick time.

Lack of paid sick time led to an estimated 5 million additional cases of H1N1 flu in 2009, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. And as the National Partnership for Women and Families noted, paid sick days don’t just benefit workers, but businesses and the economy as well:


Replacing workers can cost anywhere from 25 to 200 percent of annual compensation. Paid sick days result in reduced turnover, which leads to reduced costs incurred from advertising, interviewing and training new hires. This is particularly important in lower-wage industries where turnover is highest. Employers also reap the benefits of greater worker loyalty…Paid sick days help to decrease the productivity lost when employees work sick — known as “presenteeism” — which is estimated to cost our national economy $160 billion annually, surpassing the cost of absenteeism. The majority of human resources executives agree that presenteeism is a problem because of potential productivity loss and the risk of spreading infection.

For an average family, “missing work for just three-and-a-half days results in lost wages equivalent to an entire month’s grocery bill.” Paid sick days guard against that outcome, while ensuring that businesses stay productive.