Sick Days for Workers Keep Businesses Healthier (February 17, 2015)

By the Editors at Scientific American

A round of high fives after a successful sales call this month could be the start of something big: big numbers of salespeople calling in sick with the flu, passed from palm to palm to nose. In a restaurant break room, a sneeze from one employee can trigger weeks of sniffles and fever among co-workers. These daily run-ins on the job sideline a lot of us, particularly at this time of year. But those who are passing germs around are often doing so because they do not have paid sick leave.

Data published in 2013 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that one in five restaurant workers clocked in even when they were suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, the two main symptoms of norovirus. That formidable group of nausea-inducing viruses causes about half of all foodborne illnesses in the U.S. Bringing those harmful microbes into the workplace puts customers at risk. Employees also infect other staff members and force their bosses to scramble with a costly deluge of absences. When swine flu broke out in a 2009 pandemic, eight million infected American adults still went to work. Those employees may have caused another seven million flu infections, according to estimates by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Together, that adds up to one out of every four people who caught the disease that flu season.

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