Note: King County government does not have an official position on any potential City of Seattle proposal on paid sick leave. The statement below is from Dr. Jeff Duchin, Communicable Disease & Immunizations, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and addresses sick leave from a public health perspective.
Common infections can spread readily from person to person in workplaces, schools, child day care centers, healthcare and long term care facilities, and other settings. For this reason, standard public health recommendations for infections such as influenza, pertussis, infectious diarrhea and other diseases advise ill persons to stay home from work and school to prevent transmitting infection to others.
Norovirus gastroenteritis, the most common cause of food borne outbreaks in the US and locally, spreads easily from person to person. Norovirus outbreaks have been linked to ill food service workers and also occur in healthcare facilities, schools, and other workplaces.
In King County, from 2006 to 2010 approximately 30% of recent food borne illness outbreaks (almost all due to norovirus) were linked to food handlers who worked while ill. Current guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that paid sick leave may help reduce foodborne transmission of noroviruses.
Washington State food safety regulations (Washington Administrative Code 246-215, the Food Code) currently prohibits ill employees from preparing food and requires food service management to assure ill workers are restricted from working. Public Health recommends that food handlers stay out of work while ill with norovirus infections and until they have been well for 2 days.
During the recent H1N1 influenza pandemic, liberal workplace leave policies were recommended as part of the national response plan to prevent infections in the workplace and to allow parents to care for ill children at home and not send them to school while contagious. In Seattle, some parents reported the need to go to work made it difficult for them to keep their children home from school.
Staying home from work to prevent spreading infections is especially important in certain settings, including:
- In healthcare facilities to avoid transmitting infections to patients and other health care workers
- In long term care facilities, where residents are vulnerable to severe consequences of infections they may acquire from ill workers
- In food service establishments to avoid transmitting infections to customers from food that is contaminated by ill workers
Strategies that help prevent spread of infections in the workplace by allowing persons with contagious illnesses to stay home and that promote preventive measures such as influenza and pertussis vaccination make good sense from the public health perspective. Recognizing this, the National Association of County and City Health Officials is drafting a policy in support of paid sick leave.
Jeffrey S. Duchin, M.D. is Chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section, Public Health – Seattle and King County, and Associate Professor in Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Washington