January took a heavy toll in Americans, who suffered bouts with the flu at an elevated level, but it also took a toll on productivity for American businesses as more workers called in sick during the month than in any month in the last five years. According to a study released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this week, nearly 2.9 full-time workers were forced to take time off during the month because of illness. In fact, a whopping 1.2 million people surveyed were forced to take off an entire week, the survey showed. It's the highest number of Americans calling in sick in a month since February 2008, when 3.3 full-timers took days off and 1.3 million missed an entire week.
The BLS noted that the winter months typically bring a higher occurrence of sick days because of seasonal illnesses such as the flu and the common cold, but last month was a blow to productivity even bigger than most winter months. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the 2012-23 flu season got off to an early start, and was particularly aggressive in January. The good news, however, is that the CDC believes the season peaked late last month, and expects the instances of the virus to diminish for the remainder of the winter. Nonetheless, heath officials warn that the season is not over, and the flu virus will still infect people for several more months.
Last month's heightened activity of the flu virus affected the productivity of companies as workers called in sick, but it also hurt the financial state of thousands of American workers who do not get paid when they stay home sick. In addition to paying hospital bills and covering the cost of prescriptions, many of these workers lose out on wages when they take sick days, as federal law does not require employers to pay sick workers. Companies subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act do have to provide sick pay, but others do not. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 66 percent of American workers receive sick pay when the flu bug keeps them at home, with full-time workers generally having better access to sick pay.