What’s the perfect number of paid sick leave days for employees?

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University think they know.

They say people who receive 10 or more paid sick days per year from employers are far more likely to access preventive care such as flu shots, mammography, and screenings for cardiac risk and diabetes.

Their new study is the first to link the availability of paid sick leave to the use of preventive health services.

They found that workers aged 49 to 57 were 55 percent more likely to get a mammogram, 33 percent more likely to get a flu shot, and 28 percent more likely to get their blood sugar screened for diabetes if they had 10 or more paid sick days per year.

Having generous sick leave also raised the likelihood of workers getting their blood pressure checked by 69 percent and cholesterol screened by 34 percent.

“Preventive care is intended to catch medical conditions before they progress as well as preventing the spread of contagious diseases like influenza, which has reached epidemic proportions this year,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within Florida Atlantic University’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“Despite having access, Americans only get half of the recommended requirements for preventive healthcare services. There are many factors that contribute to this dilemma, including adequate paid sick leave days,” she said.

“The implication is that when people have more generous sick leave, they’re more likely to say they have time to take care of these preventative needs,” DeRigne told Healthline.

In some cases, people seeking treatment for unrelated illnesses may also be referred by physicians to preventive screenings during an office visit, added Celeste Monforton, DrPH, a lecturer at Texas State University and co-chair of the American Public Health Association (APHA) Occupational Health and Safety division’s public policy committee.

Few legal requirements

Most U.S. workers have fewer than 10 paid sick days, however.

In fact, many have none, especially if they work part time or for smaller companies.

“At a basic level, companies see this as a cost,” Monforton, who wrote APHA’s policy statement endorsing mandatory paid sick leave, told Healthline. “Often, businesses don’t make decisions based on what’s good for them in the long run."

There are no federal laws mandating paid sick days. And while 68 percent of companies offer paid sick days to full-time employees, just 25 percent of part-time workers get such benefits, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Nine states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — plus the District of Columbia require employers to offer paid sick days. Several dozen cities and communities also have such requirements on the books.

However, none of these laws require employers to offer 10 days or more of paid sick leave.

A new law passed in Austin, Texas, in February, for example, requires employers to give workers one hour of accrued sick time for every 30 hours worked. However, the benefit is capped at 64 hours, or eight days, for large employers, and 48 hours total for smaller employers.

“We’re an antibusiness regulation country, even if it makes good sense public health-wise,” said DeRigne.

Why sick days are important

Researchers used data for the study from the National Longitudinal Survey on Youth. The data showed that the median number of paid sick days among older working adults was seven. About 43 percent of workers had 10 or more paid sick days, and 27 percent had none.

Patricia Stoddard Dare, PhD, a study co-author and associate professor of social work at Cleveland State University, said providing paid sick days can benefit workers, employers, and public health.

“Workers who lack paid sick leave are more likely to go to work when they are sick and spread contagious diseases, such as influenza, in the workplace,” she told Healthline. “Paid sick leave is incredibly valuable because it provides both job protection and pay during times when employees must miss work for health-related reasons.”

Reluctance from employers

That message doesn’t always resonate with employers, though.

Trey Taylor, CEO of the Georgia-based benefits consulting firm Taylor Insurance Services, told Healthline that he encourages companies concerned about rising healthcare costs to consider increasing their total paid time off (PTO) days, including “mental health” days, to improve worker wellness.

However, employers tend to be more receptive to holding in-house health fairs or on-site screenings over giving paid sick days, which many see as “spending money without any accountability on the other end,” said Taylor.

R. Clinton Beeland, president and CEO of the chemical processing firm CJB Industries, echoed that sentiment.

Beeland said cash rewards are more effective in getting people to utilize preventive services, but he noted that only about 1 in 5 of his employees get their company-paid annual physical, which includes a free mammogram for women.

“People tend to use their days off for their own enjoyment,” he told Healthline.

“There are a lot of ways to deliver a flu shot that don’t require a sick day,” said DeRigne.

She noted that cholesterol and blood pressure screenings can be done at the workplace.

“The more you can bring onto the jobsite, the better,” she said.

A mammogram is a half-day time commitment, however, “so people really do need that time off work,” she said.