Thursday, July 08, 2010


People like to have paid sick leave. Imagine.

Here’s another unsurprising result of a poll, reported a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times:

Most Americans Support Paid Sick Leave, Poll Finds


The survey of 1,461 randomly selected people found that 86 percent of respondents favored legislation that would guarantee up to seven paid sick days a year, while 14 percent opposed such legislation.

According to the survey, which was released on Monday, 69 percent of respondents said paid sick days were very important for workers, with 78 percent of women compared with 61 percent of men saying paid sick days were very important. Sixty-four percent of respondents who described themselves as strong Republicans said paid sick days were very important as a labor standard, compared with 85 percent of those who identified themselves strong Democrats.

Americans overwhelmingly view paid sick days as a basic labor right, said Tom W. Smith, a senior fellow at the National Opinion Research Center and director of the study, Paid Sick Days: Attitudes and Experiences.

The other unsurprising thing is what people do if they don’t have paid sick leave: they go to work sick. That is, they’re more likely to go to work sick than people who do get paid sick leave, but there is a surprise here after all: the margin isn’t what one might think. Only 55% of those who have to eat the day themselves say they’ve gone to work with a contagious illness — that means that 45% always stayed home, despite not being paid for the day — and 37% of those who have paid sick leave went to work sick anyway.

I have to conclude that our work culture encourages going to work sick, even when you might infect others. People might fear staying home for a number of reasons. Perhaps they worry that their employer will think they’re faking it, goldbricking. Maybe they’re concerned about work piling up, meetings missed, authority undermined, and so on. Some workplaces give awards for no absenteeism, without thinking of the effect that has on legitimate absences — and the consequences of having contagiously ill employees at work.

Of course, lack of paid sick leave makes that worse, giving us more workers infecting others, more sending their kids to school sick (and having them infect teachers and other kids), more using hospital emergency departments because they can’t make appointments with their regular doctors during working hours. All of this costs money — a lot of it — but it’s less obvious than the direct cost of giving the paid leave in the first place.

We need not to look to the false economies, not try to save money on the obvious things and wind up spending it on more illness and more health-care costs.

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

H1N1 was the first time my employer actively told people not to come to work sick, including people in training. Among the other subtle and not-so-subtle hints that we should use our 13 sick days a year is that sick leave accrues infinitely and they pay you for it when you retire, unlike annual leave which has a use-or-lose cap. I'm not saying SL shouldn't accrue - one major illness can wipe out 13 days in nothing flat - but I'm not so sure they should pay us for it when we retire, either. That and the whole single-point-of-failure staffing we've got going on does incline people to come to work when they shouldn't...