Expert Pitch

Fighting the Flu: Paid Sick Leave Reduces Infection Rates

Cornell University
13-Feb-2019 6:05 AM EST, by Cornell University

This year’s flu season is on full display. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports elevated flu activity in all 10 U.S. regions surveyed. According to last year's flu season statistics, almost 50 million Americans contracted influenza, and 80,000 died.

Associate professor Nicolas Ziebarth is an international expert on sick leave and studies the interaction of social security systems with labor markets and population health. His research shows paid sick leave has significantly reduced influenza-like-illnesses (ILI) infection rates.


Ziebarth says:

“Recently enacted sick leave mandates have significantly reduced ILI infection rates by giving employees the possibility to take sick days rather than going to work sick and spreading diseases. Sick pay can be an effective instrument to reduce infections, especially during flu waves. From an economic point of view, sick pay reduces negative externalities by providing monetary incentives to sick employees to stay at home. 

"The U.S. is one of only three industrialized countries that does not guarantee universal access to paid sick leave. Especially low-wage earners, part-time employees and employees in the hospitality and service sector typically do not have access to paid sick leave. Many have to go to work sick. Mandating sick leave enables those employees to take paid sick leave and reduces the spread of influenza-like-illnesses.

“Spreading the flu is a serious public health hazard and could be deadly for at-risk groups. Employers should be lenient and supportive when their employees ask for sick leave, especially at this time of the year.

“My advice: minimize personal contact and call in sick when you feel like you could have caught the flu."

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