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Here's A Healthy Idea: Paid Sick Days

Susan Campbell

February 24, 2010

How have we weathered H1N1 so far?

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics say that almost 26 million employed Americans 18 and older might have been infected with the flu last fall during the pandemic's peak. Roughly 18 million people took at least a week off to recuperate.

And the other 8 million?

According to a new study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, they went to work sick and infected an estimated 7 million of their colleagues.

Although data is lacking for people under 18, you can guess that pattern was repeated among the younger set.

If you're sick, you should stay home, but an estimated 600,000 Connecticut employees — and roughly 40 percent of private-sector workers nationwide — don't have paid sick days. A recent Harvard-McGill study looked at workplace policies worldwide, and the U.S. lagged far behind when it came to paid leaves.

So what's it going to take for us to provide paid sick days for all?

"When swine flu first broke out, public health officials, Gov. [M. Jodi] Rell and even President [Barack] Obama urged people to stay home if you get sick," said Joe Dinkin of CT Working Families. "But despite the warnings, as this new study shows, millions of people ended up at work with the swine flu."

Kevin Miller, co-author of the Women's Policy Research study, said his research "offers credence to people's suspicions about people going to work sick."

In Hartford, the legislature's labor and public employees committee is supposed to meet Thursday to talk, in part, about a paid sick days bill that requires any employer of 50 employees or more to provide paid sick days based on hours worked. If the employer already provides time off — vacation, or flex or personal time — that employer simply must allow employees to use that allotted time if the employees become sick.

From a public health standpoint, from a productivity standpoint, from any measure imaginable, paid sick days make sense, says Dr. Bruce Gould, medical director of Burgdorf Health Center in Hartford and Hartford's health department.

"Clearly, from a public health perspective, when people are ill, they should stay home," Gould said. "When people's children are ill, they should stay home, but those children are sent to school, and then they're often sent home from school — which gives a parent who doesn't have sick time a real dilemma. Do they go to work, try to put food on the table, or do they stay home to take care of their sick child?"

People without paid sick days are often the lowest-paid employees who can't afford to miss a day of work, Gould said.

That includes the vast majority of restaurant workers — a situation that can turn restaurants into petri dishes for public infection.

"Even if you are incredibly self-centered and have to ask the question, ‘What's in it for me?' you can ask yourself, ‘Do I want someone coming to work sick and coughing on me or my child?' " Gould said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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