THE GLOBAL spread of covid-19 has led to calls for those who might be infected with the new disease to “self-isolate” at home. That could prove a threat to economic activity. It also represents a terrible dilemma for workers, some of whom could face financial hardship if they don’t turn up.
The quandary is all the greater when the disease is unfamiliar, with symptoms that are often mild, at first, and resemble common ailments. And if, like a quarter of all Americans working in the private sector, employees get no paid sick leave at all, they are more likely to take the risk and attend. In 2009 the outbreak of swine flu presented workers with a similar decision. Many American ones decided to turn up for work regardless, further spreading the infection. One study* estimated that around 7m co-workers were infected as a result.
The most recent global survey** of sick pay by the International Labour Organisation, from 2010, showed that 145 countries provided for paid sick leave at the time. Most mandated replacement pay of around 50-75% of wages. More than 100 allowed employees to be absent for a month or more.
The fear of employers and governments is that generous benefits will be costly and create the temptation for employees to malinger. It is true that Britain and America, which have stingy (if any) benefits, see...
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