This winter’s flu season is shaping up to be a nasty one, with flu-related hospitalization rates outpacing anything seen in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year’s vaccine is less effective against the strain of virus making the rounds. But there’s another factor that gives aggressive viruses like this one an extra punch in the United States: lack of access to paid sick time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28 percent of civilian workers — about 45 million individuals — have no access to paid sick leave. When these workers get ill, they have a choice: go to work sick, or stay home and forgo pay. Because lack of paid sick time is concentrated among the lowest-income employees, millions of workers opt for the former. Multiple studies have shown that workers without access to paid sick days are more likely to go to work sick than those with it.
That’s a problem not just for those workers, who are literally sacrificing their health for a day’s wage, but also for their fellow workers and commuters whom they expose to their illness.
In recent years, a number of studies have attempted to quantify the extent to which sick employees are making influenza outbreaks worse. In 2010, a policy brief published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research used data from the CDC and the BLS to estimate that during the virulent 2009 flu season, about 8 million American workers went to work while infected with the influenza virus, causing an additional 7 million people to get sick in the process.
Rates of “presenteeism” — showing up to work sick — were much lower in the public sector, where paid sick leave is more common than in the …read more