National Consumers League

The Other Dirty Paid Sick Days Secret

Psst…here’s a dirty little secret that might be playing out in your workplace too.

Colleagues are coming to work while sick. We’re lucky enough to have paid sick days but they’re not being used.

This is a problem. While my office has paid sick days, a large percent of American private sector workers don’t get any paid leave. Meaning they have to decide between a paycheck and their health. 

Nearly 40 million people don't have a single paid sick day. Do you?

It’s astounding, isn’t it? Nearly four in ten private-sector workers—and 80% of low-wage workers —don’t have a single paid sick day to recover from the flu, or cold, or stomach-bug, i.e. short-term illnesses.

Our nation’s failure to establish a basic workplace standard of paid sick days has never been so apparent and it’s costing workers, families, and the public health.

While some cities and states have taken up the mantle of paid sick days and passed laws giving workers the right to have them, what’s the benefit of these new laws if there is a work culture that prevents people from actually using them?

This problem affects children too. Sick kids are going to school and infecting their classmates. In a recent Washington Post article, one parent describes receiving an email from their child’s teacher explaining that four students have come down with strep throat that week and asks that if their child has a sore throat to please keep them home.

For those of us lucky enough to have paid sick days, we need to use them. Yes, there is a culture in many of today’s offices and workplaces that look down on employees who use their sick time. This warped way of thinking needs to change! 

How is it more productive to have someone sick with a cold or flu come into work, cough and sneeze all over the place thus infecting their colleagues than that employee staying home and getting better? In a Staples 2013 survey, it was reported that 90 percent of workers go in while they’re ill and contagious.   

Not only do we need to have universal paid sick days for all workers, not just those in white-collar jobs, but we need a change in attitude and culture that has sick people – workers and students – staying home to rest and recuperate.