Foodborne illness rates decreased by 22 percent after implementation of the paid sick leave law in jurisdictions with laws more supportive of employees taking leave, but increased in jurisdictions with laws that are less supportive.
Previous studies suggest an association between paid sick leave and better population health, including fewer infectious disease outbreaks. This study examined whether laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave are associated with decreased foodborne illness rates, particularly laws that are more supportive of employees taking leave. According to the study, more than 50 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks originate from food and beverage establishments. Forty-six percent of restaurant-associated outbreaks implicate an infected food worker, which tend to infect a median of twice as many people than other outbreaks. For example, 70 percent of foodborne norovirus outbreaks with an identified source originate from infectious food workers. Sick food workers may be a large contributor to these outbreaks because about 50 percent of food service workers work while ill, and 11 percent work even while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Yet, only 26 percent of food service workers have paid sick leave.
The researchers asked: First, are laws requiring employers to provide PSL associated with improved health, specifically reduced foodborne illnesses? Second, are differences in the design of paid sick leave laws associated with differences in foodborne illness rates?
The study focused on the four earliest paid sick leave laws, in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Connecticut, and Seattle.
Some of the findings include:
- San Francisco and Seattle had laws that were more supportive, at 10 and 8 points (of 17), whereas Washington, DC and Connecticut had laws that were less supportive, at 6 and 5 points, respectively.
- Foodborne illnesses declined after paid sick leave implementation in jurisdictions with laws that are more supportive of employees actually taking paid sick leave, but increased in jurisdictions with laws that are less supportive
- The policy effect of paid sick leave laws was associated with a –6.5% to –24.5% decrease in foodborne illness rates for more supportive laws, and a –5.1% decrease to 23.0% increase in rates for the less supportive laws.