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No time to be sick: Study shows millions of people head to work despite being ill

March 9, 2016

Ithaca, NY – Every week in the United States, as many as 3 million employees – about 2 percent of the workforce – work while they're sick, according to research from Cornell University.

Researchers examined data from the 2011 Leave Supplement of the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About half of the cases of employees going to work while ill were due to a lack of paid leave, according to the study. Women, employees who earn low wages, and workers 25 to 34 were most likely to work despite being sick.

Researchers also found that 65 percent of full-time workers had sick pay coverage, but coverage was under 20 percent among employees who made less than $10 per hour, part-time workers and employees in the hospitality and leisure industry.

“Mandating access to paid sick leave and changing the sick leave culture would help to reduce the number of employees working sick,” Nicolas Ziebarth, study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University, said in a press release, noting that employees who work while ill risk spreading diseases to others.