Workers who do not receive paid sick leave report higher levels of psychological distress, according to a study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
Only seven states require companies to offer paid sick leave. Fifteen specifically prohibit local governments from enacting mandatory paid sick leave legislation. According to the March 2017 National Compensation Survey—Benefits, 32% of private sector workers receive no paid sick leave.
The Link Between Paid Sick Leave and Mental Health
The study gathered data on 17,897 American workers who participated in the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Participants answered questions about paid sick leave. About 40% had no paid sick leave.
The study used the 6-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale to assess mental health. Previous research supports this scale’s use as a valid, reliable measure of psychological distress. The Scale assigns a K6 score ranging from 0-24, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of psychological distress. Scores above 13 are correlated with having a mental health diagnosis.
People without paid sick leave were more likely to have a K6 score suggesting a mental health diagnosis. Just 1.4% of participants with paid sick leave had a score higher than 12, compared to 3.1% with no paid sick leave.chronic health condition—also increased the risk of high psychological distress. Even after controlling for these factors, the study found people without paid sick leave experienced more psychological distress than their peers. They were also 1.45 times more likely to say their distress interfered with their activities or life.
Can Paid Sick Leave Increase Productivity?
Other studies have found worse mental health can lower employee productivity. A 2014 analysis found a 12% productivity increase among happier workers. A 2008 study linked worse mental health to lower productivity and more missed work days.
If paid sick leave reduces psychological distress, it could also improve on-the-job productivity.
- 93 percent of managers and 46 percent of service workers had paid sick leave benefits in March 2017 : The Economics Daily. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/93-percent-of-managers-and-46-percent-of-service-workers-had-paid-sick-leave-benefits-in-march-2017.htm
- Burton, W. N., Schultz, A. B., Chen, C., & Edington, D. W. (2008). The association of worker productivity and mental health: A review of the literature. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 1(2), 78-94. doi:10.1108/17538350810893883
- Insult to injury: US workers without paid sick leave suffer from mental distress. (2017, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-09/fau-iti091517.php
- Oswald, A. J., Proto, E., & Sgroi, D. (2014, February). Happiness and productivity [PDF].
- Stoddard-Dare, P., Derigne, L., Collins, C. C., Quinn, L. M., & Fuller, K. (2017). Paid sick leave and psychological distress: An analysis of U.S. workers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. doi:10.1037/ort0000293
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