Sick at Work: Infected Employees in the Workplace During the H1N1 Pandemic

Source: Robert Drago, and Kevin Miller, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, IWPR No. B264, February 2010

During the recent flu pandemic, workers were urged to stay home when ill. Many employees in the U.S., however, either cannot take leave when they or a child are sick or do not receive pay for doing so, forcing them to choose between their paycheck and the health of their children, customers, coworkers, and selves. 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey data reveal that two of five private sector workers lack paid sick days coverage, though 89 percent of state and local government employees and virtually all federal workers receive paid sick days.

This paper uses data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to estimate the number of infected workers during the H1N1 pandemic’s fall 2009 peak, looking separately at the public and private sector workforces. Findings suggest that workers in the public sector, where paid sick leave coverage is usually provided, were more likely to stay home when ill with H1N1 compared with workers in the private sector, where paid sick leave is less common. The analysis also suggests that flu pandemics may be resolved more quickly when access to paid sick leave reaches the near- universal rates seen in the public sector. Addressing the gap in paid sick days coverage among private sector workers could result in a reduction in the number of Americans affected by seasonal and pandemic disease outbreaks.
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Sick at Work
Source: Nanacy Folbre, New York Times Economix Blog, February 10, 2010

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