Stay Home When You’re Sick!

It was Mom's advice years ago, but today people stagger into work no matter what

Want your workforce to stay healthy this cold-and-flu season? Encourage people to stay home when they’re sick — novel idea, we know.

Not docking their pay when they do stay home is the other half of this equation — which may sound good in theory, but small-business employers know how tough this can be.

 Influenza-like disease rates decrease significantly when employees gain access to paid sick leave.

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Regardless, the findings of a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research are supporting previous studies that come to the same conclusion. Using Google Flu Trends data, the authors said they were able to show that “influenza-like disease rates decrease significantly when employees gain access to paid sick leave.”

Going to work despite being sick is commonly referred to as “presenteeism.” Particularly in professions with direct customer contact, presenteeism combined with contagious diseases leads to “negative externalities” and infection spillover for co-workers and customers, according to the authors.

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Essentially, if one of your staff members is coughing all over his or her desk and yours — and coughing on your customers — it’s going to increase the likelihood that others will get sick.

“Given vaccination rates for the flu are only around 40 percent in the U.S., going to work sick is one important channel through which infectious diseases spread,” the authors noted.

Worldwide, seasonal influenza epidemics alone lead to 3 to 5 million severe illnesses and an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths — in the U.S., flu-associated annual deaths range from 3,000 to 49,000, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Half of all American employees have no access to paid sick leave, particularly low-income and service sector workers. About 84 percent of the highest-earning quarter of private-sector employees have paid sick days, compared to just 31 percent of the lowest-earning quarter of workers, per 2015 Labor Department data, reported.

The report estimated that paid leave helped prevent 100 cases of “influenza-like disease” each week for every 100,000 people.

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