Study: Lack Of Paid Sick Days Led To Millions Of Additional Cases Of H1N1 Flu In 2009

Our guest blogger is Sarah Jane Glynn, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Just weeks after voters in Denver failed to pass a local paid sick days initiative, a new study to be published in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrates how a lack of workplace policies such as paid sick leave contributes significantly to illness among Hispanics — and thus the general population.


Potential exposure to H1N1 during the 2009 pandemic was significantly related to race and ethnicity, with Hispanics having the greatest risk of infection. Even after controlling for income and education, Hispanics had the highest probability of contracting an influenza-like illness, due to the absence of paid sick leave and structural factors such as the number of children living in the household.

The lack of paid sick leave among Hispanic workers contributed to an estimated 1.2 million cases of influenza-like illness among Hispanics, and 5 million additional cases in the general population.

Nearly 60 percent of Latino workers — about 12 million people — do not have access to paid sick days through their employers. Latino adults are more likely to be in the workforce than any other racial or ethnic group, and they are also more likely to work in service industry jobs such as personal care or food service — jobs where they are in direct contact with the public and where paid sick leave is less commonly offered.

Thus, the person preparing your food at a restaurant is disproportionately likely to be Latino, and is also disproportionately unlikely to have paid leave that would allow him to stay home if he caught the flu. Other research has shown that a lack of paid sick days resulted in employees of all races and ethnicities who were infected with H1N1 going to work while sick, thus infecting an estimated additional 7 million individuals — as many as 1,500 of whom died as a result.


Opponents of the ballot initiative in Denver (which included the National Restaurant Association and Keep Denver Competitive, funded by chains like KFC and Pizza Hut) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars arguing that paid sick days are too expensive in this economy. But the real question — when millions of people are infected with avoidable illnesses, and over a billion dollars is being spent each year on preventable ER visits — is too expensive for whom?