Erin Snyder: Earned Sick Days Prevents Spread of Disease

Sunday Gazette-Mail - The outbreak of enterovirus – a severe respiratory illness -- in West Virginia and the recent cases of Ebola in the United States have made one thing crystal clear: We need public health policies that prevent the spread of disease and infection. One great way to do that is to ensure that all working men and women are able to earn paid sick days, so they don’t have to come to work ill. Read

Over 260,000 West Virginia workers do not have access to a single earned sick day. They often hide their symptoms and go work to avoid being docked pay for missing a day of work. For low-income families, missing just three-and-a-half days of work is the equivalent of losing an entire month’s grocery budget.

People who come to work sick put their coworkers and customers at risk of infection. Over two-thirds of workers in West Virginia who provide services to the public, such as running a cash register, cooking meals and waiting tables, do not get earned sick time. Half of all norovirus outbreaks – often called “stomach flu” – are caused by sick food service workers, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five food service workers reported coming to work at least once with vomiting or diarrhea.

Coming to work sick extends the duration of a disease outbreak. The problem is made worse when potentially infected family members are sent to school or to a babysitter because a parent cannot afford to lose income. Children are 20 percent less likely to be sent to school when they are ill if a parent has paid sick time, data from cities and states across the country shows.

In response to the enterovirus outbreak, the CDC has repeatedly warned parents not to send their children to school when they are sick. Unfortunately, this is not an option for many parents.

No one should have to lose income or risk being fired because they have to care for a sick child, or take time to recover from an illness themselves. West Virginia can begin to protect its citizens from the risk of epidemic by requiring employers to offer earned sick days.

Working men and women and the broader public they serve are not the only ones who would benefit. Businesses would benefit too. For instance, they would save money by preventing work place injuries, reducing absenteeism, and lowering employee turnover.

During a typical flu season, U.S. businesses incur an estimated $10.4 billion in illness-related expenses. To take the example of just one state, employers in Maine would see $93 million dollars in cost savings from providing earned sick days, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates.

West Virginia employers could expect to see similar or better savings since we have more workers without earned sick days than Maine.

There are many ways workers, families, and businesses will prosper by making earned sick days a basic employment benefit. West Virginia can begin to protect its citizens from the risk of epidemic and at the same time receive an economic boost.

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