Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals, elected officials, and community leaders have made desperate pleas to those who are sick to stay home to help prevent the spread of the virus. But, sadly, many workers in Virginia don’t have paid sick days and can’t afford to forego their paycheck while recovering.
That’s why a recent study outlining the public health benefits of paid sick leave is so important. It found that when workers gained access to paid sick days during the pandemic, there were 400 fewer confirmed cases per day per state. If there were any doubts that paid sick days help keep our communities healthy and our economy open, this study puts them to rest.
The study reinforces that granting workers paid sick days is not just important during a pandemic, but at all times. According to the researchers, “employees who lack paid sick leave are more likely to go to work sick, have financial hardships, skip preventive health care, and spread contagious diseases.”
Paid sick leave has been on the agenda in the Virginia General Assembly before, but the pandemic has put it front and center in a way that lawmakers can no longer ignore. COVID-19 has clearly shown the dangerous impact of people showing up to work sick. And even without a pandemic, we know that other highly-contagious illnesses, like the flu and the common cold, can spread like wildfire in the workplace.
An NIH study shows that only 42% of all service workers have paid sick leave, compared to more than 80% of workers in management and professional occupations. Many of these lower-wage workers simply cannot afford to take an unpaid sick day, and they can’t do their jobs from the comfort of a home office. They are at higher risk due to direct and close contact with their coworkers and the public.
Of course, we should support paid sick leave because it will keep those workers healthy. But, for anyone not motivated to keep our essential workers safe and healthy, we now know that their health is linked to the health of the entire community. Passing legislation to provide guaranteed paid sick leave is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
County Board of Supervisors
*Supervisor James Walkinshaw represents the Braddock District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.