Better Your Business

For Millions of Workers, Getting Sick Doesn't Pay

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Just last month, New York joined the short list of cities—Portland, San Francisco, Washington and Seattle—and the state of Connecticut in passing a law to provide workers with paid sick time.

But due to the absence of a national policy and because the choice to provide sick leave is mostly left to businesses, an estimated 38 percent of U.S. workers, or almost 40 million, lack any paid sick leave, according to the Center for American Progress.

"It's a terrible situation for someone who has a serious health condition or a sick child and can't stay home for fear of losing wages," said Charles Lamberton, an employment lawyer who has his own firm in Pittsburgh.

"It's often a case, especially for lower-paid workers and part-timers, of not having money to buy groceries if they take unpaid sick days," Lamberton said. "People end up choosing work over getting healthy."

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Going to work ill can be expensive in other ways. The Center for American Progress estimates that unhealthy workers cost employers some $160 billion a year in lost productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the annual flu season alone constitutes a $10.5 billion hit to companies in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.