Want healthy workers who don't steal? Give them paid sick leave and pay them well.
August 1st, 2012 | Laura Clawson
If you needed evidence that it’s better when businesses treat their employees better, here are two pieces: One new study finds that people who have paid sick leave are less likely to be injured on the job and another study finds that convenience store workers steal less when they’re paid better.
In the first study, Center for Disease Control researchers found that workers with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to report workplace injuries requiring medical attention, and “Workers in jobs with a high baseline risk for injury—such as construction or manufacturing—appeared to benefit more from having access to paid sick leave.”
The study doesn’t delve into the several ways this could work. Maybe people who have paid sick days are less likely to go to work when illness makes them more likely to fall or be careless. Or maybe there are other factors that come into play, like union membership or occupational safety programs. But that hardly weakens the take-away of the study. If unions bargain for paid sick leave and improved safety standards, making their members both more likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to be injured on the job, then we may better understand the association between sick leave and occupational injuries, but it doesn’t weaken that association. It’s the same if non-union workplaces that have paid sick leave also tend to have solid safety procedures in place, leading to fewer injuries. Whether one is the cause of the other or whether they both are likely to come as a result of responsible employment practices, a concrete benefit for workers—paid sick leave—is associated with another benefit—fewer injuries.
The second study found that convenience stores that pay workers well relative to workers in similar jobs in their region experienced less cash shortage and inventory shrinkage, and that, according to study coauthor Clara Xiaoling Chen, “the effect of relative wages on employee theft is more pronounced when there are multiple workers. Relative wages influence the type of norms that develop among the co-workers.”
Low-paid workers only steal about 39 percent of what paying them more would cost, so many convenience store owners probably think it’s a fair trade. For responsible owners and managers, though, the lower turnover and training costs, as well as the general plus of not having employees who steal, strengthen the financial argument for decent pay. The moral argument for decent pay is always there, of course; it’s just that so many bosses ignore it.
These studies have in common that they both find that better treatment for workers has benefits for the employer and, if we believe that lower rates of injury and theft are good for society, benefits for society as well. It’s unfortunate that the notion that people should be paid enough to live on and be able to stay home when they’re sick needs further validation, but 35 years into the great American race to the bottom, that’s where we are.
This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 1, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.