Paid Sick Leave May Lead to Fewer Work Injuries

Americans work hard and feeling under the weather often is not enough to prevent an employee from toughing it out and coming to work. Yet a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that workers who obtained paid sick leave — and were therefore more likely to take a sick day — were 25 percent less likely to report non-fatal injuries at work.

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers are entitled to 12 weeks of leave for eligible illnesses or events, such as childbirth. However, those 12 weeks do not have to be paid. Unpaid sick leave provides incentive for workers to continue to work while ill, despite decreased productivity and the risk of more serious illnesses and injuries later on.

The study revealed that sick workers are more likely to be on medication or be fatigued, which translates into an inability to focus on tasks at hand, thereby increasing the likelihood of an accident that leads to a workplace injury. The study looked at 38,000 workers in the private sector who participated in a National Health Interview Survey between 2005 and 2008.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 40 million private-sector workers currently have access to paid sick leave, well below the number of workers who are eligible for such a benefit. Public sector employees are much more likely to have paid sick leave.

Another study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, revealed that employees who worked six or more times while sick were 53 percent more likely to miss at least 2 weeks of work later on. Those workers were also 72 percent more likely to miss two or more months of work throughout the next 18 months.

The lesson from these two studies seems to be clear. Employees should take days off when sick and employers should provide for a reasonable amount of paid sick leave in order to avoid paying the costs that arise later from workplace injuries. A workplace injury can be much more devastating to both worker and employer than merely taking a sick day or two.

Workers' Compensation

If a worker is injured while on the job, he or she may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Workers' compensation is insurance that provides cash benefits and covers medical costs for injuries that arise within an employee's scope of employment.

Workers' compensation does not take fault into account. For example, a worker whose actions cause, or contribute to an injury will still be covered by the employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, such as intoxication or "personal acts." Any factual discrepancies will be litigated at a hearing and decided by a Workers' Compensation Law Judge.

Contact an Attorney

Workers can take precautions such as using sick days when needed and being careful around heavy machinery in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. Injuries will happen, however, no matter how many precautions workers take while on the job. Workers injured while on the job should contact a skilled workers' compensation attorney to discuss obtaining cash benefits and related medical care.