Preventing presenteeism: State is nation's first to mandate paid sick leave

Expert anticipates 'wave' of sick-leave policies in 2012

In an effort to reduce employee "presenteeism," Connecticut has become the first state to mandate paid sick days for certain workers. Policy advocates predict that other cities and states will follow suit.

Millions of U.S. workers—including nearly 40% of private sector workers—do not benefit from paid sick leave. As a result, scores of employees choose to clock into work even when sick to avoid losing their jobs in a phenomenon often dubbed "presenteeism." For example, statistics show that only 33% of workers who earn $10.50 or less per hour call out sick when they are unwell.

To prevent presenteeism, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) last summer signed into law a bill requiring up to five paid sick days per year for service workers—like food servers and home health workers—employed by companies with at least 50 employees. However, the law includes a slew of exceptions for certain types of employers, like manufacturers and national not-for-profits.

According to Malloy, the law is "good public policy and specifically good public health." Specifically, supporters say the law will help curb the spread of infectious diseases. According an Institute for Women's Policy Research report, 8 million U.S. residents went to work while infected with the H1N1 virus during the 2009 outbreak. As a result, experts estimated that an additional 7 million people became infected.

Although Connecticut is the first state to mandate paid sick leave, legislatures in several states, including Massachusetts and California, are considering similar measures. Meanwhile various cities already have taken steps to expand the benefit— San Francisco, Washington, Milwaukee, and Seattle all have adopted paid-sick-leave laws in recent years.

Family Values @ Work Director Ellen Bravo predicts that "2012 will see a wave of similar campaigns across the country." According to Hart Research Associates, most U.S. workers believe that current economic conditions make paid-sick leave protection critical because employees "are vulnerable now and cannot afford to lose income or risk being fired simply because they have the flu or a child needs medical care" (Cohen, "Ideas," Time, 1/9; Woodruff, Business Insider, 1/9; Bravo, Huffington Post Business, 1/4).

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