Study: Paid sick leave is essential during COVID-19 pandemic
Paid sick leave is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to research published in Global Public Health.
“The cost of providing paid sick leave is modest compared to the cost of reining in a pandemic,” Jody Heymann, MD, PhD, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, public health and medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, said in a press release.
Both WHO and the CDC recommend that people stay at home when they are feeling sick, according to Heymann and colleagues. While people with paid sick leave can afford to take those days off, the researchers wrote, many of those who do not have sick leave are pressured to go back to work while sick, potentially exposing others to infection.
To evaluate the availability of paid sick leave worldwide — specifically looking at factors at play in the COVID-19 pandemic — Heymann and colleagues created a database of legislative guarantees for paid sick leave from 193 countries with UN member status.
They assessed whether nations made paid sick leave available from the first day of illness, as well as the duration of available sick leave and wage replacement rates. The researchers also evaluated the role of employers and social security, and the coverage provided for small businesses, people who are self-employed and part-time workers.
The researchers found that 73% of countries provided paid leave from the first day of illness, permitting workers to stay home at that time. When looking at income level, this sick leave was guaranteed in 93% of low-income countries, 78% of middle-income countries and 55% of high-income countries.
Notably, Heymann and colleagues found that the United States, Italy and Iran— three nations significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — did not offer paid sick leave from the first day of illness.
The researchers also found that 91% of countries gave workers who were at their job for at least 1 year paid sick leave for 2 weeks, and 57% provided this benefit after 1 month of employment.
Just 51% of countries guaranteed at least 80% wage replacement for their workers who were employed for at least 6 months. According to researchers, low wage replacement rates could create issues for low-income workers.
Heymann and colleagues found that 26% of countries provided paid sick leave for the first 6 weeks through social security alone, with 22% of countries providing this leave through a shared responsibility by both social security and employers.
Explicit measures to provide paid sick leave to self-employed workers were implemented in 42% of countries, according to the researchers.
Paid sick leave was guaranteed to part-time workers in approximately one-third of the countries studied, including 46% of high-income countries, 31% of middle-income countries and 23% of low-income countries, according to researchers.
They found that sick leave is offered during the first month of employment in 36% of countries, to people who are self-employed in 58% of countries and to part-time workers in 65% of countries. Therefore, Heymann and colleagues expressed concern over employees who have become essential in the COVID-19 pandemic — grocery store workers and delivery service workers — as many may have recently started their jobs to meet growing demand and are part-time workers.
Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD, explained in the press release that “well-designed paid sick leave is critical to ensure workers stay home when sick to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious pathogens — both when the economy is open and during an economic shutdown.” – by Erin Michael
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.