We Need National Mandatory Sick Leave

Or, as some asshole with a blog put it, “Would you like some norovirus with that Subway sandwich?” But workplace transmission isn’t just for norovirus! (boldface mine):

For 20 million Americans, staying home sick is a luxury. Every year, that many people go to work with a virus or infection because they don’t have paid sick leave, even though research shows that staying home prevents the flu from spreading. And during a nasty flu season like this one—we’re now likely in for a record-setting year—doctors and public health officials urge Americans to take every precaution they can to avoid spreading the potentially deadly virus.

“For those who are already sick, please stay home from work or school,” acting director of the Centers for Disease Control Anne Schuchat urged on a recent call with reporters. “That is such an important recommendation to follow. Otherwise you run the risk of spreading the virus to others—and what may be mild symptoms to you could be deadly to someone else.”

But in reality, as scientifically sound as this reasoning may be, taking unpaid days off for whatever reason, is simply not an option for many Americans. The United States is the only wealthy country that doesn’t guarantee paid days off for illness. That leaves it up to companies to decide whether to dole out the benefits, which often means that upper-level employees at large companies get paid sick leave, but low-wage workers often don’t. And those are exactly the people who can’t afford to take days off.

More than 83 percent of Americans in the top decile of earners in their occupation get paid sick leave, but only 23 percent get that benefit in the bottom 10 percent. That’s according to a 2009 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Overall, they estimate that at least 40 percent of private-sector workers don’t have paid days off if they come down with an infection like the flu. Some more recent estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that the overall numbers have increased to 60 percent, in part because of policies enacted by the Obama administration to protect government contractors, but that the vast discrepancies between high- and low-wage workers still exist to the same extent….

When researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research compared Germans to Americans, they found that influenza-like disease rates dropped significantly when people had access to paid days off. In fact, even within the U.S., the trend held up. Seven major American cities have what the NEBR qualifies as just “relatively comprehensive” (still nothing compared to the Germans). By their calculations, those cities prevented 100 cases of flu-like illness per week and per 100,000 people.

Think how many cases we could prevent with widespread paid leave. In the 2009 H1N1 pandemic alone, estimates suggest that around 5 to 7 million more people got the flu from someone who came to work sick, and that an additional 1,500 people died.

Forget enlightened self-interest: not wanting to be waited on/served by someone with influenza or norovirus (or…) is sheer butt nekkid self-interest. Of course, Republicans think mandatory sick leave is bad, because freedom. So I guess we’re not going to make any progress on this until 2021 at the earliest.

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