H1N1 Outbreak Made Worse by Lack of Sick Days

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eantoniovg/">ALTO CONTRASTE Edgar AVG.</a> (<a href="http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/">Creative Commons</a>)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


One component of comprehensive health care reform that has been notably lacking from the drawn out legislative discussions is access to paid sick leave. In the US—the only industrial nation where workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave for short-term or long-term illnesses—39 percent of workers do not recieve paid sick days. A new briefing paper released today by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which links the spread of the virulent H1N1 flu to a lack of paid sick days, makes a compelling case for why that should be changed.

“Employees who attended work while infected with H1N1 are estimated to have caused the infection of as many as 7 million coworkers,” said Pennsylvania State University Professor Robert Drago, one of the authors of Sick at Work: Infected Employees in the Workplace During the H1N1 Pandemic [PDF], in a statement accompanying its publication. Combing through data on rates of illness and work attendance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Drago and his coauthor Kevin Miller found that, of the 26 million working Americans who may have been inflected with swine flu in 2009, nearly 8 million continued to work while they were infected. Although most government employees receive paid sick days, the majority of Americans work in the private sector where only three out of five workers have access to any paid time off when they are sick. “Workers without paid sick days must choose whether to go to work sick or lose pay, a choice that many can’t afford to make,” Miller noted.

Presenteeism, attending work while ill, is an especially troubling phenomena in a time when climate change is likely to increase global outbreaks of infectious diseases. While passing a comprehensive climate bill is still the most important step Congress can take to prepare the US for climate change’s effects, the IWPR report also makes clear the need to make paid sick leave universal. One bill to do just that—the Healthy Families Act—was introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) last May. Like the prospect of universal health care, which Kennedy championed his entire career, the paid sick leave bill is also languishing in congressional limbo.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate