U.S. Lags Behind Other Countries in Providing Sick Days, Sick Leave

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , May 19, 2009

The United States is the only nation among 22 wealthy countries that fails to guarantee sick workers some type of paid sick leave or paid sick days, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

The report, Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries, also found that the U.S. is the only country in the study that does not provide paid sick leave for a worker undergoing a 50-day cancer treatment; only three countries--the U.S., Canada and Japan--have no national policy requiring employers to provide sick days for workers who may miss five days or more of work to recover from the flu.

Many working Americans can't afford to stay home when they're sick because they don't have paid sick days, according to Jody Heymann, director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and professor of epidemiology at McGill University, who was the lead author of the report.

The lack of paid sick days can put Americans "at substantially greater risk of contagious diseases--from the flu, which kills thousands annually, to diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and the threat of new diseases like the H1N1 flu virus," she said in a statement.

To compare the U.S. with the national policies of the 21 other countries, the authors calculated employer- or government-provided financial support available to workers with the flu, which requires they miss five days of work or a cancer treatment requiring that they miss 50 days of work.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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