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Employees don’t require an advanced degree in epidemiology or public health to understand that staying home from work when they’re sick can stop the spread of disease. When the disease is COVID-19, staying home to prevent disease transmission becomes critical.

However, for many workers, staying home is not a viable option when it means they won’t earn a paycheck. And unfortunately a notable percentage of the American workforce can’t stay home without suffering a financial hit. Some 27% of all employees and 17% of full-time employees in the U.S. can’t take paid sick leave.

Now, a study published in the journal Health Affairs provides statistical proof that providing sick leave pay for workers has helped stop the spread of COVID-19.

In March, Congress passed and the president signed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).” The bill provides two weeks of COVID-19-related emergency sick leave coverage at full pay, up to a cap, according to the article “COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Has Helped Flatten The Curve In The United States.”

Businesses with more than 500 employees were exempt from the bill, so the legislation mainly benefited workers in smaller firms without paid sick leave. At the state level, some 12 states and the District of Columbia had previously implemented state-level sick pay mandates.  

“Our findings,” the study says, “show that states where employees gained access to paid sick leave because of FFCRA had a statistically significant decrease of approximately 400 fewer confirmed new cases per day, relative to the pre-FFCRA period and to states that had already enacted sick pay mandates prior to FFCRA. This represents a reduction of about 1 new case per day for every 1,300 workers who gained the right to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave due to COVID-19. Thus, granting access to paid sick leave has helped to flatten the curve.”

“A Critical Policy”

Employee sick leave is “a critical policy that is necessary for all workers, not just health care workers, but for everybody so that they can stay home when they’re sick,” says Cheryl Peterson, MSN, RN, American Nurses Association Vice President of Nursing Practice and Work Environment, Washington, DC.

Peterson notes that “flattening the curve” hasn’t been talked about since perhaps May. “But we are in a space now again where we have to slow the number of people coming to the hospitals because they are already overwhelmed.”

What’s more, she notes that the legislation provides for one-time paid sick leave of up to two weeks. “If employees take their emergency sick leave as a precautionary measure or because they’re quarantined, they may not be able to take additional sick leave if they actually get sick,” Peterson says. “We have to be smart about the policies that we’re instituting that in fact they actually meet the need given the situation.”

The article notes that the U.S. is one of very few Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries that does not guarantee universal access to paid sick leave for all employed workers. The OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

The FFCRA emergency sick leave provision is set to expire at the end of this year.


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