Does sick pay encourage workers to play ill?

While paid sick leave is something we take for granted, new research has found it may actually increase absenteeism

Paid sick leave schemes encourage employees to stay home, even when they are not ill, a US research paper has found.

This research highlights some differences for US employers who, at a federal level, aren't mandated to provide paid sick leave for staff. Rather the individual states have their own regulations on how much paid and unpaid sick leave is required for employees.

For comparison, Australian employers are obligated to provide ten days of sick leave per year for fulltime staff under the National Employment Standards.

The research paper, from the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, found that employees who have access to paid leave for illness are more likely to stay home and 'play ill'.

Whilst the research found that sick schemes help "significantly decrease" the flu rate by encouraging contagious employees to stay home, it found that this also has a knock-on effect in encouraging absenteeism among workers.

However, a lack of paid leave for sickness can lead employees to spread illness among co-workers – the research found that the absence of a sick leave program often forces contagious employees to go into work, risking infecting their colleagues.

The paper, The Pros and Cons of Sick Pay Schemes, also looked at Germany, which it said has one of the "most generous universal sick leave systems in the world," – employers are usually mandated to provide 100% sick pay from the first day of absence for up to six weeks.

It found that where sick pay had been reduced from this level, the reduction in those 'playing ill' was larger than the increase in the infectious disease rate.

This suggests that less provision for sick pay could lead to fewer cases of worker absenteeism, without significantly impacting the sick rate among employees.

Related stories:

Workplace stress a greater threat to women: study
Why you shouldn't send sick workers home
Can you make sick employees attend disciplinary meetings over the phone?

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