To the Editor:
The Princeton Council has been discussing legislation that would allow nearly everyone who works in the town to earn sick time they can use for themselves or a loved one in the event of an illness. The Princeton Board of Health urges the municipality to pass the ordinance and join nine New Jersey municipalities that already guarantee earned sick time.
Any responsible doctor will tell someone with the flu to stay home, get well, and avoid spreading germs. But for over 40 percent of private-sector workers who don’t have any paid sick time, every illness presents an impossible choice. Do they stay home and take care of themselves? Or do they go to work to be able to pay their bills? Where employees aren’t even allowed an unpaid day off, staying home to recover from the flu can cost them their job.
When workers are forced to come to work sick it puts us all at risk. 1 in 5 food service workers have reported coming in with a stomach bug, and fear of job loss played a big role in their decision. Infected food workers cause 70 percent of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food, which is why the CDC recommends restaurants provide paid sick days to their workers.
The Princeton Health Department has investigated two foodborne illness outbreaks stemming from suspected ill workers in as many years. Both outbreaks resulted in over 50 individuals succumbing to symptoms associated with foodborne disease. The Health Department has investigated an average of 27 reportable foodborne illnesses per year over the previous five years (2010-2014). Each year on average, seven cases had a connection to a food handler.
Childcare providers and home health care workers also often lack access to paid sick time, and when they come to work sick they can transmit illnesses to some of our town’s most vulnerable residents.
Parents who can’t earn paid sick time are more than twice as likely to send a sick child to school or daycare, endangering students, teachers, and staff. In 2013 over 40 percent of the students at Eagleswood Elementary School in Ocean County contracted norovirus, forcing the school to shut down for days. A growing body of evidence suggests that allowing workers to earn sick days can also provide real savings for businesses and our local economy. Workers forced to come to work sick stay sick longer, are less productive and can infect their co-workers. Nationally our economy loses $160 billion a year to this kind of ‘presenteeism’ — more than the cost of absenteeism.
Workers without earned sick days are 40 percent more likely to delay medical care, turning treatable conditions into more serious and costly ones. Unsurprisingly they are also more likely to use the emergency room – contributing to New Jersey’s more than 1 million annual emergency room visits that would be entirely avoidable with timely primary care.
Finally, jurisdictions that have passed similar laws around the country are doing well. Jersey City, Seattle and San Francisco are gaining jobs faster than neighbors that lack similar policies. Connecticut enacted the first statewide earned sick time law, and the Department of Labor reports measurable gains in the sectors most impacted by the new law. Passing the earned sick time ordinance would help keep Princeton’s families, businesses and local economy healthy. We urge the Council to pass this critical legislation as soon as possible.
CHARLES ROJER, MD
Princeton Board of Health, Chair
One Monument Drive