It’s National Public Health Week — a time when the nation’s public health community unites around one aspect of public health to raise awareness and improve the health of the nation. This year, the focus is prevention. And there’s no doubt that paid sick days can play a key role in preventing the spread of illness and keeping our communities healthy.
It makes logical sense: If workers don’t have access to paid sick days when illness strikes, they end up going to work sick or sending sick children to school or day care. Many are forced to do so in order to protect their jobs and their families’ economic security. In fact, adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than adults with paid sick days to report going to work sick with a contagious illness. Workers without paid sick days are also more likely to forgo preventive care for themselves and their families.
To make matters worse, workers who have significant interaction with the public — such as those working in food service, child care and personal care — are among the least likely to have access to paid sick days. As a result, illness is often unnecessarily spread to other workers, customers and throughout communities.
During the H1N1 outbreak an estimated seven million people in the United States caught the flu from their co-workers. And people without paid sick days were at greater risk of being exposed to the virus. In 2008, an Ohio restaurant worker had no choice but to go to work sick and more than 500 people became violently ill. Just last year, an Olive Garden worker in North Carolina went to work with hepatitis; the Olive Garden, which is part of the mega-profitable Darden Restaurant Group, does not offer paid sick days to its employees. Sadly, these are not isolated cases — and they were preventable.
Workers with paid sick days are able to care for themselves and sick family members, ultimately reducing contagion and preventing illness. This is good for the health of working families, businesses and our communities — and that’s why prominent public health organizations have joined our national paid sick days coalition.
Paid sick days standards guarantee workers’ access to the earned paid sick days they need while significantly benefiting and protecting the public health. As this National Public Health Week draws to a close, let’s remind our state and federal lawmakers of that important point.
For more on the impact a lack of paid sick days has on public health, check out this fact sheet.