Worried about lost wages, a backlog of work or punishment from the boss, more than one in four American workers recently surveyed said they show up to work while ill, even though they could sicken their colleagues.
In a poll of more than a thousand U.S. adults in the midst of this year's flu season, NSF International, a public-health testing group based in Michigan, found that a quarter of those who copped to working while sick said their boss required them to. Thirty-seven percent said they needed the money, and 42 percent said too much work would pile up if they didn't clock in.
"[A] majority of Americans indicate the major reason is because of workload," NSF said in a statement. "Many have deadlines or are afraid they will have too much work to make up if they take a sick day, while nearly as many say that can’t afford to be sick and miss work."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly four in 10 private-sector workers don't enjoy paid sick-leave benefits, meaning if they don't show up for work they don't get paid. Such workers tend to be concentrated in low-wage industries like retail and restaurants, where they can least afford to miss work.
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But even for the 61 percent of private-sector workers who do have paid sick leave, many workers still feel non-financial pressures to show up, according to the survey. Twenty-five percent claimed they work while sick "because their boss expects them to come in no matter what," the survey explained.
More than a third of those polled said they wait until they feel the "full onset" of their symptoms before deciding to stay home.
For those who have the option of staying home, clocking in while sick is counterproductive, according to NSF.
"While the inclination might be to power through an illness and go to work when you’re starting to feel run down, the best thing to do is stay home," the group said. "Going to work not only puts your co-workers at risk of getting sick, but may further strain your immune system."
Advocates for paid sick leave have succeeded in getting local laws on the books in large part by casting it as a public-health issue. Connecticut is the only state in the nation with a state-wide requirement that employers must let workers accrue paid sick leave. But several U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Seattle and Portland, have adopted such mandates, and more states and municipalities are expected to put similar measures on the ballot.
Most developed countries have national laws requiring paid sick leave for workers, but not the U.S. Democratic proposals in Congress that would create such requirements have found little Republican support.
A HuffPost YouGov poll last year found that 74 percent of Americans believe employers should be required to offer sick leave, while only 18 percent said they shouldn't be required to do so. Respondents in that poll also supported a mandate for paid maternity leave by a margin of 61 to 27 percent.