Study suggests costs of having sick employees continue to work can be substantial
By Claudine Kapel
Do your employees come to work when they’re sick?
One factor that influences whether sick workers continue to work is whether they are able to take paid sick leave. They may be more likely to come to work sick if they’re not paid for staying at home.
While there are costs associated with providing paid sick leave to employees, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests there can be significant costs associated with not providing such a benefit.
The study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, found workers with access to paid sick leave are 28 per cent less likely to be injured on the job than workers without such a benefit. Workers in high-risk occupations and industry sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture, health care and social assistance, appear to benefit most from access to paid sick leave.
The study is the first U.S. research to attempt to quantify some of the benefits of paid sick leave. The researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey for the period of 2005 to 2008, covering a sample of 38,000 adults working in the private sector.
In their report, the researchers highlight a variety of ways employers benefit by offering paid sick leave. “Employers can realize gains from offering paid sick leave through the reduction of productivity loses associated with sick workers who continue to work.” Paid sick leave can also help prevent the spread of contagious diseases to co-workers, reducing the cost of unscheduled leaves and absenteeism levels.
In addition, the researchers note working while sick can increase workers’ probability of suffering an injury. “Sick or stressed workers who continue to work are likely to take medications, experience sleep problems, or be fatigued. These factors can impair their ability to concentrate or make sound decisions, which can in turn increase their probability of suffering an additional illness or sustaining a workplace injury.”
Note the researchers: “The costs associated with sick workers who continue to work can be substantial.”
The study also indicates paid sick leave contributes to healthier workers. “For workers, paid sick leave is associated with shorter recovery times and reduced complications from minor health problems.”
In an era where the focus on cost containment and cost cutting is so pronounced, it is likely few employers are looking for ways to increase their spending on benefits. Nevertheless, from a total rewards perspective, there is value in at least asking some questions about paid sick leave and where that fits, if at all, in the overall total rewards equation.
For example, what has been the organization’s experience with absenteeism, short-term disability claims or workplace accidents? To what extent does having employees coming to work sick represent occupational or reputational risks with respect to the kinds of work being done? Do employees operate equipment or engage in jobs where high levels of concentration are required? Do they deal with the public?
Does the organization have a point of view on whether it is okay for employees to come to work sick? Even in an environment where paid sick leave is available, employees may still come to work sick because of work pressures, deadlines, or because it is a cultural norm to do so.
Every organization must ultimately find the strategy for managing employee absences that works for its unique circumstances. But a good place to start is with some good questions.
Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.