Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Flu Shows Gaps in Sick-Leave Policies ; ANALYSIS

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Flu Shows Gaps in Sick-Leave Policies ; ANALYSIS

Article excerpt

This year's flu epidemic has already overwhelmed hospital emergency rooms and claimed 20 children's lives. It could be better contained, not just by hand-washing and flu shots, but by tackling a glaring public policy gap: lack of sick leave. We often hear about the workplace no-show problem known as absenteeism. But an even bigger problem in a flu-infested season like this one is what some are calling "presenteeism." That's when people show up for work when they shouldn't, because they're sick.

Those who do it are not necessarily compulsive about their jobs. They have no doubt heard the same warnings the rest of us have, to stay home. But many simply can't afford to. Nearly one-third of U.S. workers, or close to 42 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have no paid sick time off. Among part- time workers, only one in four has any.

This is an important but overlooked aspect of why influenza can so quickly reach epidemic proportions.

While absenteeism accounts for 22 percent of lost workplace productivity, "presenteeism" accounts for 78 percent, because sick workers infect others, according to the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California's Hastings Law School. That, it says, costs the U.S. economy $180 billion a year. In 2009, 5 million cases of the H1N1 flu resulted from a lack of paid sick days, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

You would think that with such consequences, we would have tackled the problem at a national level. Yet the United States is one of the only developed nations that does not guarantee workers some paid sick leave.

By any measure, sick workers on the job are a problem. The National Partnership for Women and Families found that sick employees who come to work are half as productive as usual. It also estimates the medical costs for sick workers infected by their co- workers at $102. …

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