By Jason Coates, Public Policy Associate
As flu season approaches, policies that protect the public health are more important than ever. The ability to take paid time off of work to recover from an illness or care for a loved one is one important way to stop the spread of disease during flu season. However, those who need paid time off the most don’t necessarily get this benefit from their employer. That is why NHCOA works on a paid family leave efforts to support healthy communities and economic security.
Retail and restaurant workers are more likely to not have paid leave, and this puts the public at risk. Flu season, combined with crowded stores and restaurants, means that workers have contact with large crowds, increasing the chance of transmitting any illness they may have. Although most employers will allow workers to take time off to recover from illness, a large number of employers do not pay workers during this period. This means many workers simply cannot afford to take time off even when they are ill.
Attending work while sick is a widespread problem. Office supply chain store Staples Inc. conducted a national survey of workers which found that nearly 80% of employees come to work sick. Moreover, over 40% of private-sector workers do not have any access to paid sick days. Although they may be able to take time off to recover from an illness, they will not be able to recover lost wages during their illness. Therefore, workers without paid family leave are faced with choosing between their health and their income.
The bottom line is that while there are many U.S. workers who do have paid family leave, there are other who don’t. At first glance, this may not seem to matter. However, ensuring all workers have leaves that pay benefits can potentially improve public health and reduce health care spending. When workers, especially those in close contact with the public, are able to stay home to recover from their illness, the spread of infection is limited. Containing the spread of illnesses and quickly treating them helps the health care system avoid large costs in the long run. Further, paid leave laws also allow workers to take charge of their health by managing minor health problems before they become serious or chronic.
That is why NHCOA is working to connect segments of the Hispanic communities with other stakeholders to advocate for paid family leave policies at the state and local level. Leaves that pay laws are good for all parties involved: workers, the health care system, and the public in general.