Friday, February 19, 2010

Working with H1N1

During the H1N1 pandemic, workers were urged to stay home if they were sick. However, those without paid sick time often had no choice. These workers had to choose between going to work sick or losing their pay and possibly their jobs. In a recent report, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has found that many workers were forced to go to work sick and that their lack of having paid sick days likely extended the duration of the outbreak.

Looking at information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), IWPR found that almost 26 million working Americans were infected with H1N1 in the fall of 2009. Of that 26 million, only 18 million took some time off work, meaning that 8 million Americans went to work with H1N1 despite urging from the CDC and the White House to stay home if sick.

As a result, IWPR estimates that 7 million co-workers were infected with H1N1. The study found that while 90 percent of public sector employees took time away from work when infected with H1N1, only 66 percent of private sector employees did the same. The option of staying home if sick allowed more private sector employees to recover faster and to keep from spreading the illness to their co-workers, therefore allowing the duration and amount of absences to decline faster.

Being able to stay home from work when you are sick is good for not only for employees but also for employers. Having a waitress with the flu, a day care worker with a cold, or an office worker with a virus puts customers and co-workers at risk of becoming ill themselves. The United States is only one of a very few developed countries without paid sick time for their workers, and it should not take another pandemic for changes to be made to allow workers to earn paid sick time.

Contact your state and, if in Philadelphia, city representatives and urge them to support paid sick days legislation. You can also tell us your story. Are you a parent who lost their job to stay home with a sick child? Are you a business owner who provides/supports paid sick days? Tell your story in the comment section below or email it to us at

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