It's not brain surgery: Pay sick workers to stay home

A new flu study confirms it: Giving ill workers time off cuts down on workplace ailments, saving big money.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 17, 2013 8:45AM

Woman blowing her nose (© Getty Images)Allowing workers sick with influenza to stay home can help prevent the spread of flu in your workspace. Makes sense, right? But a lot of employers expect their workers to show up, no matter how they may feel.

And many employees, concerned about their workload and job security, will often soldier on despite feeling miserable -- while potentially spreading their misery around the office.

But a new study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has provided scientific evidence of what many office veterans already know to be true.

Researchers simulated a flu outbreak in Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County. They found that giving all employees access to paid sick days would reduce flu cases at work by almost 6%. They also found that giving affected workers paid sick days can be even more effective in smaller workplaces.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu sufferers stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever goes away to prevent spreading the ailment. But few offices have similar guidelines.

"Many more workers in small workplaces than in large ones lack access to paid sick days and hence find it difficult to stay home when ill," Supriva Kumar, the study's lead author, said in a press statement. "Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers."

The study also examined the option of giving employees alternative "flu days" that would allow workers one or two paid days at home -- longer than usual -- to recover from the flu. The researchers said one flu day decreased workplace flu infections by more than 25%, while two flu days led to a decrease of nearly 40%. According to the study, this method worked especially well in workplaces of 500 or more people.

Along with its toll on people's health, influenza's financial costs are nothing to sneeze at. The World Health Organization estimates that in the U.S. alone, flu outbreaks cost the economy at least $71 billion annually.

And health care officials say offering sick leave can have long-term benefits for an affected company.

"It is in the best interest of the employer," Ron Voorhees, with the Allegheny County Health Department, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "and it may be cost-effective to pay the first person to stay home, so it doesn't spread."

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Jun 17, 2013 10:05AM
Yep!!! go home!.. better than infecting the rest of us... really... i don't like being sick... playing sick is something entirely different..... sometimes you need to recharge your mental batteries...
Jun 17, 2013 10:12AM
I agree with the premise of this article, but it assumes that workers have paid leave and can afford to take time off.  It also assumes that employers are going to agree without penalizing the workers.
Jun 17, 2013 10:44AM

Bueller ........




B U E L L E R ....................

Jun 17, 2013 10:25AM
Call them "personal days"....we get 2 a year.  Use them as you wish...extra vacation, sick, etc.
Jun 17, 2013 10:37AM
Can't beat the government for this one, they do it best.  We get 4 hrs of paid sick leave every pay period.  Lovely stuff.
Jun 17, 2013 10:13AM
Maybe businesses should take this advice. Maybe the math is fuzzy sketchy math like global warming. One thing is for certain, we don't need the government coming in and mandating and hopefully that isn't what the article writer is pushing for. Each business should decide for themselves what works best.
Jun 17, 2013 10:52AM
I just don't understand "flu days". We have "sick days". Why tie them to the flu only?
Jun 17, 2013 10:46AM

Where I work we have very generous PTO.  6 sick days per year and 2 personal days.  This is on top of vacation time that can be as much as 4 weeks if you have at least 10 years of service. 


It amazes me how many people have all of this time exhausted by the time we get to September and complain they can't take more time off.

Jun 17, 2013 10:45AM
Stay home.  Just because you may have rugrats who gave you a cold doesn't mean I want it.  Stay the fvck home or at least wear a mask.
Jun 17, 2013 10:42AM
Once Obummer care is up and running, you can be certain this will be mandated by the government.  Socialism, here we come!  The government who claims you can't legislate morality will be legislating morality.
Jun 17, 2013 10:09AM

Ha! If we adopt this, expect next year's flue season to be on the level of a "pandemic". Of course, not a real one. ;)

Jun 17, 2013 10:24AM
Great idea! All employees, both in the public and private sector, should have their wages reduced 5% and then be entitled to 14 days paid sick leave. The libs will be happy, we won't artificially drive up the cost of labor, and theoretically we'll be a little bit healthier.
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