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Paid Sick Days “A Defense Against The Flu”

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CHART: The blue line suggests West Virginia is in for a bad flu season. But the spread of flu and other infectious diseases could be slowed by granting more workers paid sick leave. Chart by West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
CHART: The blue line suggests West Virginia is in for a bad flu season. But the spread of flu and other infectious diseases could be slowed by granting more workers paid sick leave. Chart by West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
January 16, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The flu is flying around West Virginia, but there may be a partial cure in an unexpected place - through paid sick days.

Supporters are pushing both Congress and the West Virginia Legislature to expand the types of workers who can earn paid time off when they are ill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's coming just as the state is seeing a pretty bad flu season.

Erin Snyder, a health-policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said sick leave is a good public-health tool because it can slow the spread of infectious disease.

"The problem is that 44 percent of the private-sector workforce in West Virginia does not have access to sick days," she said, "and therefore does not have the option to stay home when they're sick."

Opponents say benefits such as sick leave make jobs more expensive and slow employment growth.

Snyder said states and cities that have expanded sick leave haven't had slower job growth because, while sick leave does cost employers, it saves them money in the long run by reducing turnover and other problems.

"It creates a higher level of job satisfaction, reduces absenteeism and increases productivity," she said. "The cost to replace someone is much higher than the cost to provide paid sick days."

One proposal in the Legislature would require companies with more than 15 employees to grant one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Sick leave at smaller businesses would be unpaid, but workers who took a sick day could not be fired or demoted for it.

Snyder said one CDC study found that half of all stomach-flu transmissions came from sick food-service workers - and almost two-thirds of West Virginia food-service workers don't have paid sick leave. She added that a sick-leave policy also could stop the flu from spreading at schools.

"When workers don't have access to paid sick time, children are 20 percent more likely to be sent to school when they're ill," she said. "This continues the outbreak to teachers and then, to other coworkers in the school system."

Supporters are pressing state lawmakers to take up the issue.

More information is online at wvpolicy.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV