The researchers simulated an influenza epidemic in Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County. The results of the study are reported in the American Journal of Public Health.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with flu stay home for 24 hours after their fever breaks,” said lead author Supriya Kumar, Ph.D., M.P.H., a post-doctoral associate in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. “However, not everyone is able to follow these guidelines. Many more workers in small workplaces than in large ones lack access to paid sick days and hence find it difficult to stay home when ill. Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers.”
For public health officials, this means that informing communities about the importance of sick days during flu season could have a large impact on reducing overall healthcare costs by minimizing workplace influenza transmission.
In addition to investigating the impact of universal access to paid sick days, Dr. Kumar and her colleagues looked at an alternative intervention they termed “flu days,” in which all employees had access to one or two paid days to stay home from work and recover from the flu. The idea behind flu days is that they encourage employees to stay home longer than they currently do, thus reducing the potential for them to transmit illness to colleagues at work.
Giving employees one flu day resulted in more than a 25 percent decrease in influenza infections due to workplace transmission. A two flu-day policy resulted in a nearly 40 percent decrease. The researchers found that universal access to paid sick days was more effective for smaller companies, whereas the “flu days” were more effective for larger workplaces (defined as having 500 or more employees).
“These findings make a strong case for paid sick days,” said Dr. Kumar. “Future research should examine the economic impacts of paid sick-day policies.”