Sick Leave Lowers Flu Transmission: Lessons From D.C.

I’ve discussed many, many, many times how stupid it is to oppose sick leave policies. After all, do you really want someone who is sick handling your food? (Answer: no). A recent working paper appears to back up that claim.

What’s interesting is that the District serves as a nice model system, as it passed two versions of sick leave legislation. The early form didn’t cover most food service workers and healthcare workers, while a later version did. As the kids used to say, you’ll never guess what happened next (boldface mine):

Despite the early concerns from the business community in D.C., a 2013 audit showed that the paid sick leave law “neither discouraged business owners from locating in the District nor encouraged business owners to move their business from the District.” After a concerted effort from labor and restaurant worker advocates, including a campaign featuring people dressed up as sick chefs, D.C. expanded the legislation in 2013 to cover tipped workers and shorten the length of time before workers begin accruing sick leave. After it went into effect, the difference in the number of flu-like illnesses in D.C. was stark.

Ziebarth ran the numbers (the CDC collects data by metropolitan area but doesn’t share it with researchers over security concerns, so the researchers used comparable GoogleFlu data) for DCist on the effects of the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act. Between November of 2008 and February of 2014, D.C. saw a decline in cases of flu-like illnesses of 1 percent, which roughly translates to about 400 cases per year, according to Ziebarth.

But after the extension to waitstaff and other tipped workers went into effect in 2014, D.C. saw an additional 5 percent decrease of flu-like illnesses, or about 2,000 fewer cases of coughing, sniffling coworkers between February of 2014 and July of 2015.

“The law, as it is now, is pretty comprehensive. [The numbers are now] more or less what we saw in other cities—on average 5 to 6 percent,” Ziebarth says. “The question is who reacts to these reforms when you have this mandate and stays at home to recover.”

That’s considerable, especially if you’re one of the people who didn’t get influenza.

You wouldn’t eat at a restaurant where the food would make you sick. It puzzles me why people would want to eat at a restaurant where the staff can make you sick.

Sometimes the D.C. government does get it right.

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