Thanks to DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law, Fewer People Are Getting the Flu

The District’s efforts to ensure that everyone gets paid sick leave from their job—adopted in 2008 and strengthened in 2014—have led to reduced flu infections citywide. That’s great news as the flu season approaches.

States and cities that require employers to offer sick leave to employees have seen a drop in flu infections, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, based on Google Flu data. The study finds that incidents of flu infections fell:

  • 5.5 percent in states that require employers to provide unpaid sick leave to workers;
  • 6.5 percent in states that require employers to provide paid sick leave to workers; and
  • 2.5 percent in the District after its paid sick leave law was initially passed, with the likelihood of even larger declines in the future, due to the law’s expansion (see below).

Paid sick leave benefits are important both to workers and to public health. All of us get sick sometimes and need to take time off from work, but that should not lead to a loss of income that makes it harder to pay bills. Without paid sick leave, many workers go to work when they shouldn’t, where they are more likely to infect their coworkers. When workers have access to paid sick leave, by contrast, they are more likely to stay home when they are sick, reducing the spread of contagious illnesses like the flu.

DC’s Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act (ASSLA) requires employers to give workers at least 3-7 paid sick days per year, depending on the size of the business and whether the worker is tipped or not. Sick leave can be used for personal illness, medical appointments, care of an ill family member, or absences associated with domestic violence or sexual abuse. Employees are protected from employer retaliation for using their sick leave benefits.

Researchers believe that flu infections will fall further in DC as more recent data is collected. This is because DC’s paid sick leave law was strengthened in 2014 to cover more workers. The initial law passed in 2008 required workers to be on the job a year before accruing benefits, and it excluded tipped workers and bar employees. The 2014 changes cover all workers, and allows them to accrue starting on their first day of work.

As summer starts to wind down and the new school year begins, it’s good to know that a law aimed at improving working conditions for city workers has made us healthier as a city.

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