I don’t need no sick days

We are a sick nation. According to a survey by Monster.com earlier this year, 71 percent of American workers admit they go to work when they are ill. The reasons for going to work points to an American workforce that is more focused on productivity on the job than their personal health. Some 33 percent of respondents said they feared losing their job and 38 percent said their workload is too busy to take a sick day. Still others report to work when they are sick because they do not have paid sick time–57 million people in the United States do not get sick days.

A few days ago I was browsing for books at The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, N.Y., and found myself talking about my injury with an employee there. She said when she first started work there she had no health insurance since her employer had in place a waiting period before new hires were eligible for benefits. During that time, she said, she lived in fear of getting sick or injured. But now that she has health insurance the situation is not much better since she has no sick days. She put it this way: “taking a day off when you’re sick means you can’t pay the bills.” Yet this has somehow been lost in the healthcare debate. What is the point of having medical benefits if you cannot afford to miss a day at work?

The United States is the only country out of the top 20 world economic powers with no federally mandated sick days. An Associated Press article reports that almost half the private sector–48 percent–has no sick days.

“The Associated Press interviewed several workers in the food industry. Not surprisingly, most didn’t want their names used for fear they would be fired. They told stories of coming to work with a fever or flu in order to keep their jobs, and of seeing sick co-workers sneezing and coughing near food.

A study on sick leave found that 68 percent of those without paid sick days had gone to work with a contagious illness such as the flu or a viral infection. And one in six workers reported that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished, or threatened with firing after taking time off to care for themselves or a family member, according to the 2008 study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.”

This is despite evidence that employees who come to work are less productive than had they taken the day off. The Center for Law and Social Policy found lost productivity from working while sick at 72 percent compared to 28 percent when employees missed work days due to illness.

Perhaps instead of popping an aspirin or ibuprofen and grinning and bearing it we could all use a day off.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper