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Why over 40% of Americans still work when they’re sick

A survey found that 41% of Americans “always” or “often” work while sick.

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In addition to pressures from the ongoing pandemic, inflation and a surge of layoffs, Americans – especially people of color – are even more reluctant to take time off from work when sick than they were a year ago.

A new poll of 2,000 employed Americans found that 41% “always” or “often” work while sick because they cannot afford to take a sick day from their job – 64% said taking a sick day would cause financial strain.

Overall, 67% of those polled said inflation has made them less likely to take an unpaid sick day, as they have become more concerned about financial security.

People of color were found much less likely to call out from work than their white counterparts. Latina women, for example, are more hesitant than white women to take a sick day from work (71% vs. 52%) due to ongoing layoffs.

Overall, layoffs throughout the U.S. have made 62% of employees more reluctant to take a sick day, even if one is available to them.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Theraflu, the survey discovered two in three people have avoided calling out sick from work for fear of being reprimanded by their employer or company — a big increase compared to a duplicate OnePoll survey from August 2021 (67% vs. 58%).

Compared to 2021, the fear of being reprimanded for taking sick leave has increased by 28% among Latina women, who are more likely than white women to have this concern (77% in 2022 vs. 60% in 2021).

Age was also found as a factor — older working Americans (ages 58–76) are less likely than their younger counterparts (18–25) to take time off from work when sick, due to financial implications (51% vs. 36%).

The study found that 63% of employees feel guilty for taking sick time due to staff shortages. Additionally, 60% of those polled feel actively discouraged by their workplace to call out to take care of themselves — 20% more than in 2021.

“Our research continues to show that many Americans are still not taking the proper time to rest and recover when they’re sick due to financial barriers and the cultural stigmas associated with sick days,” said Sameer Rabbani, Marketing Lead, Respiratory Health at Haleon. “We’re fighting to create a flu safe world and a large part of that is ensuring people can take the sick time they need.”

Even with many employers offering work-from-home options due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the poll results revealed a stigma in taking sick days remains, even on non-commute days. Compared to 2021, no change was seen in the number of people who can work from home and feel obligated to work remotely rather than take a sick day, unless they have tested positive for COVID-19 (68%).

Caring for others is also a factor in employees taking sick time from work. Compared to last year, Latina women (55% vs. 18%) and Black women (36% vs. 23%) were much more likely to take three to four sick days to care for a loved one.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself for your own health, as well as that of your loved ones,” Rabbani said. “The ability to rest and recover should be a right – not a privilege.”

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