This study says mandatory paid sick leave is essential to slowing the pandemic

COVID-19 and the global pandemic it’s brought along with it has exposed a whole lot of problems in our society. One of the most glaring issues, though, is the US’s woefully inadequate paid sick leave policies. 

The US holds the dubious distinction of being essentially the only advanced economy on Earth that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off (PTO) for vacations or illness. While some states have passed local laws mandating days off for illness, there are still tens of millions of lower and middle-income American workers forced each year to report for their jobs day after day despite being sick.

The emergence of COVID-19 has made this already disturbing issue that much more pressing. There have been countless stories of factory workers, cashiers, and other employees faced with no other options than to continue working and putting themselves at risk through this pandemic. 

Thankfully, the federal government recently passed some legislation (the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) mandating paid sick leave for more workers. 

Now, a new study from Georgia State University and Tulane University is proclaiming that guaranteed paid sick leave mandates, like those found in the FFCRA, are an integral aspect of beating COVID-19 in the US.

Back in April, the federal government put the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into effect. That act ensured that employees of small and medium-sized businesses impacted by COVID-19 will be given paid sick leave options. To get an idea of how much this act is helping to curb the coronavirus’ spread, the study’s authors looked at and analyzed data on the effects of earlier, more localized, paid sick leave mandates.

In total, researchers examined survey data collected on such policy changes between 2005 and 2018.

“These mandates reduced the number of people attending work while sick, which is similar to an earlier study showing influenza-like disease rates decreased after employees gained access to paid sick leave,” says Michael Pesko, an associate professor in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, in a university release. “If paid sick leave helps stop people from attending work while sick and prevents the spread of disease as a result, this has important policy implications in today’s fight to contain COVID-19.”

According to their findings, a paid sick leave mandate reduces the number of employees reporting for work while sick in a given area by an average of 4.5% among industries that usually don’t offer paid sick leave (restaurant employees, hospitality). Mandatory paid sick leave options also help more women and workers supporting children take time off, as many probably use some of their days off to care for their sick child or take care of another family matter.

“What are the policy implications? The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which went into effect April 1, is the first congressionally passed bill that provides Paid Sick Leave for employees in medium- and small-sized businesses with coronavirus issues,” professor Pesko concludes. “We believe that the bill will reduce people attending work with COVID-19 because it pays for them to stay home and recover. This bill is, therefore, an important component in COVID-19 containment efforts.”

Regardless of the coronavirus, no one should feel like they have to report for work while ill. It isn’t healthy on an individual level, but it also puts everyone else in the workplace at risk. An individual’s job is supposed to facilitate a better life, not dominate their existence.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Human Resources. 

John Anderer is a frequent contributor for Ladders News.