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Worth a Shot: More Paid Sick Days Could Improve Employee Health


It may be worth employers’ time to stop thinking about sick days purely as days to survive the flu and, instead, think about “sick” time as time spent staying well.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University found that it takes 10 or more paid sick-leave days to significantly increase the odds that American workers ages 49 to 57 get a flu shot, check their cholesterol and blood pressure, and get a fasting blood-sugar test. Female workers need at least six to nine paid sick-leave days to see significantly increased odds of getting a mammogram, according to the study, “How Many Sick Days Are Enough?”

The study results provided compelling evidence that workers in the United States with paid sick leave are significantly likelier to engage in preventive health-care behaviors than those without paid sick leave. The study also found a disconnect between the number of days typically offered to workers in the United States and the number of days in which researchers observed changes in preventive health-care use.

“It took 10 or more days — more days than are mandated in any of the local U.S. paid sick leave laws – for us to see statistically significant increases in the likelihood of reporting having received a flu vaccination, mammography, and screenings for blood sugar and blood pressure,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within FAU's College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“For policymakers who want to increase preventive health-care services use in this age group, a longer and more generous paid sick leave plan of at least 10 days should be considered,” she said.

For the study, the researchers classified sick leave days into four categories: high level, 10 or more days; moderate level, six to nine days; low level, three to five days; and very low level, zero to two days.

Overall, researchers found a 26% to 85% increase in preventive health-care use among those with at least 10 or more paid sick leave days compared to those with zero to two paid sick leave days. For the female-focused preventive services, they showed a 55% increase in the use of preventive mammography.  

Working adults with 10 or more paid sick leave days had a 33% increase in getting a flu shot, a 28% increase in screening their blood sugar, and a 69% increase in checking their blood pressure as compared to those with zero to two paid sick leave days. Employees with 10 or more days of paid sick leave also had a 34% increase in cholesterol screening.

The researchers used an analytic sample of 3,235 working adults age 49 to 57 in 2014 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Nearly the entire sample (93.5%) reported having health-care insurance or a health-care plan. The median number of paid sick leave days was seven, with nearly 27% of the sample reporting having no paid leave sick days. Only 10% of the sample had 20 or more paid sick leave days. Almost 26% fell into the zero to very low category while 43% fell into the high category of 10 or more paid sick leave days.   

“Preventive care is intended to catch medical conditions before they progress as well as preventing the spread of contagious diseases like influenza, which has reached epidemic proportions this year,” DeRigne said. “Despite having access, Americans only get half of the recommended requirements for preventive health-care services. There are many factors that contribute to this dilemma, including adequate paid sick leave days.”  

Unlike most industrialized countries, paid sick leave in the United States is inconsistently included as part of workplace benefits packages, and 72% of working Americans have access to this benefit. Furthermore, some localities mandate the provision of a range of paid sick leave days annually depending on employer size.

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