Supriya Kumar, University of Pittsburgh – Paid Sick Days and Flu Outbreaks – 10-Year Anniversary

We’re celebrating a decade of the Academic Minute this week with one segment from each year.

This segment from 2013, Supriya Kumar, postdoctoral associate in the department of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, detailed why an extra “flu day” or two before coming back to work could be key in containing the spread of the disease.

Supriya Kumar is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. Her research addresses the impact of social and cognitive factors on behavior related to health with a specific focus on how policy, social environment, and individual social position impact health behaviors. She earned her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University.

Paid Sick Days and Flu Outbreaks

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Our new research reveals that if paid sick days were made available to all employees, the result would be a reduction in flu cases. The US CDC recommends that people with influenza stay home for an additional 24 hours after their fever has resolved. Not everyone is able to follow these guidelines, however, and one reason is lack of access to paid sick days. Using computational simulations, we quantified the number of cases that could be prevented under different policy scenarios.

In a baseline simulation, people had access to paid sick days based on data from the US bureau of labor statistics—lower access in workplaces with fewer than 50 employees and higher access in larger workplaces. We assumed that employees with sick days were more likely to stay home when ill and that the average absence from work was close to 2 days. In this baseline scenario 11% of the employed population was infected.

The first policy scenario assumed that all employees had access to paid sick days. This universal paid sick days policy is expected to increase the proportion of people staying home, but not the average length of absence. The result: flu cases in the workplace were reduced by 6 percent compared to baseline.
Next, we tested a scenario in which all employees had access to “flu days”—paid days to recover from the flu. Flu days promote sick employees staying home for additional days over and above the current average of about 2 days

The result: one “flu day” reduced cases by 25 percent and two flu days by 39%. We conclude that flu days are effective at reducing the spread of influenza and that layering them on top of a universal paid sick days policy could equitably reduce disease in the workplace.

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