If you have recuperated from an illness or injury at home recently—or enjoyed the workplace quietude while your coughing, sniffling, and sneezing coworker stayed home—you probably know firsthand the benefits of paid sick leave.

Unfortunately, many workers still do not have access to this job benefit, even though it may help employers reduce absenteeism-related costs, according to a recent NIOSH study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

So, why is it that some employers provide paid sick leave to their employees, while others do not? For one reason, most U.S. employers are not required to do so. As of November 2016, only 7 states and 32 localities had enacted laws that required paid sick leave. In 2016, 64% of workers in the private sector had access to paid sick leave, compared with 90% of workers in the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, the percentage of workers with paid sick leave varies significantly according to firm size, employment conditions, industries, and occupations. Second, the researchers hypothesize that a lack of information on the economic benefits of paid sick leave may lead some employers to consider it an expense without any return on investment.

To begin filling this knowledge gap, NIOSH researchers estimated potential savings using the national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and other published results. They found that paid sick leave might help reduce absenteeism related to the spread of flu and other influenza-like illness. In turn, this reduction may translate into money saved for employers. Looking specifically at the years 2007 to 2014, the researchers estimated that providing paid sick leave to workers who lack it might help decrease the number of workdays lost due to flu and similar illnesses by nearly 4 to 11 million per year. In terms of the bottom line, this decrease might save employers almost $1 to $2 billion, expressed in 2016 dollars, in reduced absenteeism costs related to flu and similar illnesses during each of these years. In an earlier study, NIOSH researchers found a link between parents’ access to paid sick leave and the likelihood of flu vaccination among their children.

Other potential benefits of paid sick leave may include reduced job turnover, fewer sick employees attending work, or presenteeism, and a lower incidence of non-fatal workplace injury, according to the study. Future research is needed to verify these estimated benefits and to examine whether they vary across industries, job occupations, and company size. Still, these findings might help employers consider paid sick leave as an investment that actually saves money over the long term.

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