U.S. Sick Leave Policy Makes Nation More Vulnerable To Swine Flu

The United States lags behind developed nations in mandating paid sick leave for workers, a deficiency that makes the nation more vulnerable to contagious illnesses like swine flu, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research released Monday.

"We looked at 22 affluent countries -- the 22 that are the top 22 ranked in terms of the human development index -- except for the United States, every single other one has some form of paid sick days or paid sick leave and the majority have both," said the report's lead author, Jody Heymann of McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

To bring the U.S. up to speed, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced a bill that would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

"Every worker should have paid sick days -- it is a matter of right and wrong. Being a working parent should not mean choosing between your job, taking care of yourself, and taking care of your family," said DeLauro in a statement. Noting that in the wake of the continuing swine flu outbreak many public officials have encouraged folks with symptoms to stay home, DeLauro added: "for many Americans, following this sound advice is impossible. Almost half of all private sector workers, 57 million, do not have a single paid sick day. These workers put their jobs on the line every time they take a day off."

DeLauro said in her statement that "presenteeism" -- when sick workers show up for work instead of staying home -- costs the national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity, or $225 per employee per year.

The CEPR's report, titled "Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries," found that the U.S. was the only one that did not have national or at least provincial policies providing paid sick leave for workers for short stretches of five days or long stretches of 50 days.

Heymann said DeLauro's bill will remedy the nation's ailing sick leave policy. The current setup, she said, is a hazard for everybody.

"You have to worry not only whether you have paid leave but whether the restaurant worker has paid leave," said Heymann, "or whether they went to work with gastroenteritis because they don't have paid leave."

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