In the wake of the anxiety over the recent flu outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that anyone with flu symptoms stay home from work and school.

Debate has arisen over employees that aren’t in a position to stay home from work because they don’t have sick leave benefits. Some employees even feared if they stayed home they would lose their jobs.

Some statistics indicate that nearly half of all private sector workers in our country – more than 59 million people – have no paid sick time at all. This is particularly evident among women who are low wage earners. More than three-quarters of this population have no paid sick days at all, along with part time workers. Other statistics corroborate these numbers, citing that nearly 75% of low-wage U.S, workers do not have sick leave benefits with approximately 43% of all U.S. workers without paid sick leave time.

Food service employees are the least likely to have access to sick leave. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 14% of the people serving and handling food in restaurants can stay home from work when they’re coughing and sneezing, without fear of losing their jobs. Jose Olivia, the policy coordinator for the advocacy group, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, stated that only about 1% of the food service employees he normally counsels can stay home sick without fear of losing pay or possibly even their jobs.

What can employers gain by offering paid sick leave to their employees? Authors Peter Dursch and Jorg Occhssler, University of Heidelberg professors in the Department of Economics, conducted a study to help answer this question. They found that when there’s competition among employers to attract top talent “firms have to offer either generous sick pay or a very generous wage.”

Typically, providing sick pay does elicit higher effort from employees, increasing productivity. “Profits are higher with sick pay provision,” as well, especially when wages are adjusted to compensate for the benefit. Sick pay was especially important when managers were studied, as managers generally demonstrated higher effort when they had generous benefits, including paid sick leave.

So this study indicates that paid sick leave benefits are beneficial to companies in competitive markets – something to think about when analyzing company profits, turnover, productivity and overall workforce quality. Paid sick time may seem unaffordable in this tough economic climate, yet the increased productivity and higher effort demonstrated by employees may suggest, in the long term, offering the benefit is indeed the most cost-effective, profitable approach.

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