Want more productivity out of employees? Pay 'em not to show up!

That's the conclusion drawn by a recent study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Specifically, the study found that workers who enjoy a paid sick leave benefit are 28 percent less likely to suffer a non-fatal injury on the job.

The study looked at data from some 38,000 private sector employees, collected between 2005 and 2008.

The benefits of paid sick leave policies were particularly significant for blue collar workers and risk-exposed fields like manufacturing, agriculture, health care and social assistance.

Among the findings:

  • Health care workers with paid sick leave are 18 percent less likely to suffer non-fatal workplace injuries than workers without it.
  • Construction workers without paid sick leave are 21 percent less likely to suffer non-fatal workplace injuries than workers without it.

According to researchers, the study confirms previous research suggesting that workers with paid sick leave also report shorter recovery times than workers who don't have paid sick leave.

"Access to paid sick leave might reduce the pressure to work while sick out of fear of losing income," stated researcher Abay Asfaw in the press release accompanying the study. "Paid sick leave also enables workers to care for loved ones and can help prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Employers may benefit from improved productivity if paid sick leave helps reduce absenteeism, or unscheduled leave, and "presenteeism," or the problem of  sick workers continuing to work while not fully productive."

Naturally, providing paid sick leave can potentially lower indirect costs of employee injury and presenteeism as well. Some examples off potential savings:

  • Fewer workers compensation claims.
  • Lower long-term workers compensation premiums. 
  • Lower group medical insurance premiums, where premiums are set based upon that company's prior year claims experience.
  • Higher employee productivity, thanks to improved morale.
  • Lower employee turnover costs: Employees stay longer with companies that have more robust benefits, including paid sick leave.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act requires certain employers to grant leave upon request to injured or ill employees or to for them to care for injured or ill family members, this leave does not have to be paid - and at any rate the federal law does not apply to smaller employers. According to the study's researchers, 43 percent of workers surveyed reported that they do not have access to any kind of paid sick leave from their employers.

Food Industry Considerations

A recent survey of Miami, Florida-area food service workers found that at least have of them admitted to handling food on the job while sick, including while exhibiting symptoms like coughing and sneezing. 10 percent reported they had infected at least one co-worker. 20 percent reported that they got sicker as a result of having to go to work. 63 percent of them reported no access to health insurance, and 46 percent of them reported that they had never seen a doctor.

Each of them served food to or prepared food for thousands of customers. The potential for contagion is obvious. But less than one in ten reported that they had any kind of paid sick leave to draw on when they should not be coming to work.

Furthermore, a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that mandatory employer sick leave could potentially have prevented millions of cases of H1N1 virus.


Naturally, employers are wary of any proposal to pay workers for nonproductive hours. Will reductions in presenteeism, lower health and workers comp premiums and lower injury rates compensate for additional outlays to employees taking sick leave? Early indications suggest yes, they will. A recent survey by the Institute for Womens' Policy Research of the effect of mandatory sick leave policies in San Francisco concluded that six out of seven employers reported no net negative effect on profitability as a result of offering paid sick leave.