Giving employees paid time off when they're sick is the best way to keep influenza, or the flu, from spreading throughout the office, new research shows.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health revealed that allowing all employees access to paid sick days reduces influenza infections in the workplace. Specifically, the researchers found that universal access to paid sick days would reduce flu cases in the workplace by nearly 6 percent. They also suggested this method would be most effective for small businesses.

The study's lead author, Supriya Kumar, said despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that people with the flu stay home for 24 hours after their fever breaks, many employees can't afford to follow those guidelines.

"Many more workers in small workplaces than in large ones lack access to paid sick days and, hence, find it difficult to stay home when ill," Kumar said. "Our simulations show that allowing all workers access to paid sick days would reduce illness, because fewer workers get the flu over the course of the season if employees are able to stay home and keep the virus from being transmitted to their co-workers."

In addition to universal access to paid sick days, the researchers also examined an alternative intervention they termed "flu days," in which all employees had access to one or two paid days to stay home from work and recover from the flu.

They discovered that giving employees one flu day resulted in a more than 25-percent drop in influenza infections due to workplace transmission. A two-flu-day policy resulted in a nearly 40-percent decrease.

"These findings make a strong case for paid sick days," Kumar said. "Future research should examine the economic impacts of paid sick-day policies."

The study, which was based on a simulated influenza epidemic in Pittsburgh and its surrounding Allegheny County, will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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