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Flu epidemic shows it's time for federal sick-leave standard

As many of our readers in San Antonio have likely heard, our country is being hit hard by a flu epidemic. Hospitals are running out of beds and several people have died as the flu continues to spread. As we see this happening, it may raise some questions in our minds. Perhaps foremost is how can we prevent the spread of serious illness?

A recent article in the San Angelo Standard-Times makes the case that providing paid sick days to employees in all work environments could dramatically cut back on the spread of illness in this country. Right now, there is no federal law that requires employers to offer paid sick time to their employees, putting the United States among the few developed countries that don't mandate paid sick days.

While some employers may be opposed to this idea in fear that employees will abuse paid sick time, most workers don't even use all of the sick time they're allotted, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, the article cites a study that shows that 78 percent of lost workplace productivity can be attributed to employees who show up to work even when they're sick. The American Journal of Public Health even attributed the outbreak of the H1N1 flu in 2009 to employers failing to offer paid sick days.

Further contributing to her point, the author cites the National Partnership for Women and Families, which found that not only are sick workers 50 percent less productive, but medical costs for workers infected by co-workers soars to more than $100 million annually.

While several bills have been introduced in Congress to require employers with a certain number of employees to offer paid sick time, none have been approved.

For many people who don't get paid sick time, skipping work because of an illness can have serious financial implications. However, employers in Texas and elsewhere may come to realize that spending extra money to provide employees sick days may end up saving them more in other areas. It will be interesting to see if Congress decides to reconsider a related bill this year.

Source: San Angelo Standard-Times, "REKHA BASU: Flu epidemic exposes sick-leave policy gaps," Rekha Basu, Jan. 18, 2013

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