A new survey has found that nearly half of Americans go to work sick, sparking a renewed fight for p...
damircudic/E+/Getty Images

This Is Why We Fight For Paid Sick Leave

by Morgan Brinlee

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to grow in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged anyone who feels sick to stay home in an attempt to limit community spread of the virus. But because the United States has no federally-mandated paid sick leave policy, many workers in America simply can't afford to stay home when ill. In fact, around half of Americans have gone to work sick according to a recent survey from YouGov and the Huffington Post, making the fight for nationwide paid sick leave even more important.

As part of their prevention and treatment guidelines for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the CDC has urged people to "stay home when you are sick." Unfortunately, for the millions of workers who aren't guaranteed paid sick leave, the CDC's advice is not only unrealistic but potentially financially impossible. A recent survey published by the Huffington Post found that 47% of respondents had shown up to work sick sometime within the last 12 months because they either couldn't take time off or felt like they shouldn't.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 20% said they could not take any time off work if they were to get sick right now. What's more, nearly half of respondents — 49% — reported working in the service industry and interacting with customers on a face-to-face basis, meaning their inability to take time off when sick could lead to additional infections.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has shown that seven out of 10 low-wage workers and one in three private sector workers do not have access to even one paid sick day. That translates to more than 34 million workers in America having no access to paid sick days.

While the recent coronavirus outbreak has put America's lack of a federally-mandated paid sick leave policy under scrutiny, it isn't the first time a lack of access to paid sick days has potentially exacerbated the spread of a serious illness. As The Guardian reported, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that, in 2009, at least three in 10 workers went to work while sick with the H1N1 swine flu. "Employees who attended work while infected with H1N1 are estimated to have caused the infection of as many as 7 million co-workers," the Institute for Women’s Policy Research noted in their report.

In an effort to provide all workers with the means of following the CDC's guidance to stay home when sick, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he plans to amend his paid sick leave budget proposal to include a coronavirus quarantine provision, according to City & State New York. "I'm going to amend the paid sick leave bill that I sent to the Legislature to where there is a specific provision that says people, who because of this situation with coronavirus, have to be quarantine should be protected," Cuomo reportedly said. "Their employer should pay them for the period of quarantine and their job should be protected."

In light of the growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases, Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Patty Murray introduced legislation Friday that, if passed, would enable all workers to accrue seven days paid sick leave and mandate employers provide another 14 days in situations where there is a public health emergency. While not necessarily the paid federal sick leave policy the United States needs, the bill could be the first step toward that direction.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.