Working woman have a headache

Stressed working woman (© sebra -

NEW YORK — Fear of retribution is keeping sick Americans from taking a day off from work. A new study polled 2,000 employed Americans about the stress of taking time off work and found that 58 percent avoid calling out for fear of being criticized by their employer.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has Americans taking their health more seriously than ever, half of respondents feel discouraged by their workplace to call out to take care of themselves when feeling under the weather. Black and Latina women feel this more than other Americans, as they are 10 percent more likely than white women to say they avoid sick days for fear of being reprimanded by a boss.

Working through illness

sick daysConducted by OnePoll on behalf of Theraflu, the survey finds 55 percent have to give their managers a reason for calling out. Of this group, two in three feel like their bosses never believe their reason.

As a result, respondents have continued going to work while sick an average of three times within the last year. Nearly three in five (58%) even reported pushing themselves to clock in unless their symptoms are so severe, they can’t get out of bed.

Among Americans that can work from home (just over 1,700 respondents), 68 percent feel obligated to clock in at home rather than take a sick day – citing that they believe they only need to use a sick day if they have COVID-19.

This pressure and the increased ability for many to work from home exacerbates societal pressures to power through, continuing to work when sick. To that point, the average respondent has only called out sick three times over the past year. Furthermore, 68 percent of the poll say they will push through and go to work in some capacity because they “can’t afford” to take a sick day.

Staff shortages also contribute to this, as 63 percent of respondents feel guilty for taking a sick day because it places a burden on their co-workers.

“It’s unfortunate to see data showing so many Americans are avoiding taking the time their body needs to rest and recover when they’re sick, but it’s not surprising given the systematic barriers and cultural stigmas associated with sick days,” says Sameer Rabbani, Marketing Lead, Respiratory Health at GSK Consumer Healthcare, in a statement.

Can’t afford sick days?

sick daysThis trend seems to be due to the fact that taking time off while ill is a financial strain, which 64 percent of respondents agree with.

In fact, Black and Latina women respondents reported they often avoid taking time to rest and recover because of the financial strain. The results show Black women are 14 percent more likely and Latina women are eight percent more likely than white women to say taking an unpaid sick day causes financial strain for her family.

In addition, two in three workers often have to put the needs of their family before their own health or need for a sick day. It’s a pressure Black women say they feel more dramatically, who are 10 percent more likely than white women to use sick days to care for someone else.

“Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself for your own health, as well as that of your loved ones,” Rabbani adds.

“The ability to rest and recover should be a right, not a privilege. We’ve commissioned this research to support some of the 68 percent of employed Americans who work while sick because they can’t afford to take a sick day – and to help announce our Rest & Recover Fund, a microgrant program designed to help reimburse approximately lost wages from 1,000 unpaid sick days.”

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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