The Flu Hit American Workers Hard in January

Allison Linn
Aaron Lemma receives a flu shot by Dr. Sassan Naderi at the Premier Care walk-in health clinic which administers flu shots on January 10, 2013 in New York City.
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That nasty flu season appears to have taken a toll on our productivity as well as our health.

More American workers called in sick in January than during any month in nearly five years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said this week.

Nearly 2.9 million full-time workers only worked part-time during the week in which they were surveyed because of illness, injury or medical appointment, the BLS said. Also, more than 1.2 million people were off work for the whole week they were surveyed because they were sick, the BLS said.

That's the highest level of people calling in sick since February 2008, when 1.3 million people missed a full week of work and 3.3 million full-time workers only worked part-time because of illness.

The BLS noted that more people typically call in sick during the winter months, when seasonal illnesses such as cold and the flu are common. But this year appears to have been especially hard on Americans, and on workers.

The flu season got off to an early and aggressive start, but the good news is that it appears to have peaked in late January, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Still, experts warn that the flu could continue to circulate for months.

In addition, other bugs, such as common colds and the stomach flu, can keep workers from heading into the office.

For many workers, getting sick can literally be costly. There is no federal requirement that companies provide paid sick leave, although companies who are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act requires unpaid sick leave.

About 66 percent of workers have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Full-time workers are much more likely than part-time workers to have paid sick leave, according to the BLS.