Healthy workforce, healthy economy
Every flu season, public health officials tell us that washing our hands and covering a cough are good ways to avoid getting sick or passing on the illness.It seems that nearly every office worker, teacher and nurse has a bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready, and public service announcements urging us to get a flu shot can been seen on TV or in the paper nearly every day.These preventive steps are easy to follow. But one very effective way to stop the spread of illness - staying home when you get sick - is financially too difficult for thousands of New Hampshire workers to follow.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 254,148 New Hampshire residents, or about 47 percent of the state's private sector workers, are unable to take a paid sick day when they are ill. Forced to choose between going to work sick or staying home without pay, many head into work, potentially infecting their co-workers or the customers with whom they come into contact.A 2009 study, "Raising the Global Floor," conducted by international researchers from institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health found that 163 countries guarantee paid sick leave, including the most competitive nations in the world. It debunks the idea that paid sick leave costs companies money and hinders job growth. In fact, the study shows that the increased productivity of a better work environment easily pays for the slight increase in wage costs.Yes, there is a correlation between profitability and sick leave. The more nations guarantee healthy workplace policies, the study found, the more competitive their companies become.Studies have also disproved that workers with paid sick leave often abuse it - another common argument against the policy.A 2004 health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that workers with access to paid sick days take 3.9 days per year for their own illnesses and 1.3 days to care for other family members. Workers not covered by the policy take on average three sick days per year. Hardly the jump in absenteeism some critics predict.Not having paid sick leave disproportionately affects workers in lower-paying jobs, some of whom cannot afford to take a day off without pay or risk losing their job. Many of these workers have no paid time off at all, let alone time to stay home sick or take a child to the doctor.When crafting past workers' rights laws, such as minimum wage and child labor restrictions, communities and local leaders have come together to ensure everyone has fair working conditions. While some companies already offer paid sick leave, guaranteeing a few paid days off in the event of illness through legislation levels the playing field between those that do and the companies that don't.It is time for New Hampshire and the country to do what's right and guarantee paid sick leave to all workers. People should not have to choose between their jobs and caring for a sick child or their own health. As studies have shown time and again, paid sick leave is a benefit to public health and the economy.It's time for the New Hampshire business community to recognize that a healthy workforce is the key to a healthy economy.Nikki Murphy is executive director of the New Hampshire Women's Lobby & Alliance. Jeremy Hitchcock is owner of Dynamic Services Inc., Manchester.