Monday, April 27, 2009
Hmm ... sick days and pandemics
Currently, nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. For low-income workers, the number jumps to 76 percent, and climbs to 86 percent for food service workers. These workers have to decide between the health of themselves and their co-workers, and the wages that they lose by staying home.On one hand, I can certainly understand why firms -- particular food service firms -- don't want paid sick days. Food service operations can be seriously impacted if workers don't show up on short notice. Furthermore, it would not surprise me if low wage employees prefer higher regular wages to lower wages and sick days.
However, these statistics don't answer the key question lurking in the last sentence of the quote -- what share of sick people actually show up to work. Still, this pattern is troublesome because it is not hard to imagine that an inefficiently high number of workers choose to show up at work while sick.
Workers who work while sick impose negative externalities on their co-workers, employers, and customers. Recall, that the presence of negative externalities, suggests that an inefficiently high number of workers will work while sick. As such, discouraging workers from showing up to work sick -- particularly in occupations where there is lots of contact/interaction with other people -- is good policy. Allowing workers who are sick to stay home ans still get paid is one way to encourage this (so perhaps the government should subsidize sick days in high interaction occupations), but there may be other ways to achieve better results.
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