by Jon Green, Director of CT Working Families
Once again, the issue of paid sick days has drawn considerable attention in the state legislature. The bill currently awaits action in the House, where this year it has the support of the Speaker.
The idea has attracted a broad coalition of supporters, including doctors and business owners. There’s also a growing body of research demonstrating that such a policy has broad public benefits and very small costs. It’s not just a narrow “labor-management” issue; it’s an issue of public health, of healthcare access, and even an issue of smart business practices.
The outbreak of the swine flu brought the need for sick days into clearer focus. We all remember the advice offered from the President, the CDC, and public health officials everywhere: if you’re sick, don’t go to work. But for hundreds of thousands of people in Connecticut, staying home isn’t an option. Facing the prospect of losing pay or getting disciplined, many workers will go to work sick. A new survey from Monster.com reported that 33% of employees go to work sick because they worry about getting fired.
The spread of illness in the workplace poses a real public health risk. But it’s especially alarming that employees without sick days are concentrated in jobs that require contact with the public and vulnerable populations.
A 2008 outbreak of a ‘norovirus’ at Adam’s Mill restaurant in Manchester. About 30 UConn students caught a nasty stomach flu at dinner. The Connecticut Department of Public health did an investigation (pdf) and traced the incident to a sick food service worker. This is no surprise; the Center for Disease Control estimates that out of 18 million ‘norovirus’ infections annually, roughly half are attributable to ill food service workers.
It’s not just restaurant workers who lack paid sick days. So do many childcare providers, school bus drivers, and even home health aides. People who are sick should not be caring for our kids and our elderly. But they do.
Physicians support paid sick days because it’s a reform that can dramatically improve our healthcare system. When it comes to healthcare reform, there’s one thing that all sides agree on: improving access to primary care drives down costs for all of us. Yet nearly half of all private sector workers have no sick days – making them far more likely to forego the preventive care that reduces costs and improves health outcomes.
There’s plenty of research. A Massachusetts study found that providing sick days would reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, cutting healthcare costs by $957 million. This month, a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that employees who repeatedly come to work sick are 74% more likely to experience serious health problems later.
For these reasons, the paid sick days bill has gained the support of the State Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Some business owners defy the hard-line CBIA position and acknowledge providing paid sick days actually saves money. If that sounds like blasphemy, consider this column from Forbes:
“If you’re not feeling great, do yourself and your co-workers a favor: Call in sick. You’ll likely get better faster and save your employer money.”
Could it be that CBIA’s position doesn’t represent the best interest of most businesses?
That’s the conclusion reached by Jerry Porricelli, owner of two grocery stores in Fairfield County. I’ve spent some time discussing this policy with Porricelli. Politically, we don’t have much in common – he’s active in Republican politics.
But on this issue, Mr. Porricelli recognizes that a sick days policy is beneficial for everyone:
“Yes, there is a cost, but the benefit to all concerned far outweighs the cost. Employees’ morale improves, their productivity improves, employee retention improves and the consumer can feel safe when she shops. It’s just plain good business.”
Scott MacDonald, a respected HR consultant with the Human Resources Consortium in New Haven offered testimony on paid sick days before the Labor Committee.
“My experience and extensive research has led to the unmistakable conclusion that progressive leave policies, including sick leave, actually have a positive effect on productivity, employee morale, employee satisfaction and engagement, and bottom-line success.”
If you think these employers are just a quirky minority, look at this on-line poll from the Hartford Business Journal. By 70-30, HBJ readers support the paid sick days requirement.
No Sick Days = Fired
Especially during a difficult economy, workers just can’t afford to lose two days out of their check when they or their children are sick. And they certainly can’t afford to lose a job. I’ve spoken with some people who find it hard to believe that anyone could be fired because of missing work due to an illness; but it happens. One of our supporters in Milford wrote a letter to her elected officials describing her story:
“The lack of paid sick time is the reason I am unemployed now. I have 4 children, so you can imagine how tough it gets when one gets sick. And that’s exactly what happened the day I got fired. One of my children got sick, and I called my boss and told her I’d be late that day. I wasn’t even calling out for the whole day, but I had to take my child to the doctor, and I needed time and make arrangements with a babysitter. I then brought in a doctor’s note, but I was still fired. I understand employers worry that the employees are taking time off when they don’t need it, but I brought in a doctor’s note! I’ve never been fired in my life, and it was a terribly humiliating experience.”
For all the reasons above, and especially for workers like this one (and her four kids) let’s pass this law.