- This year, about 630,000 more Americans per month are calling out sick for a week or more than pre-pandemic.
- Even though an elevated number of workers are still getting sick, employers are losing their patience.
- One union told Insider that the disparity highlights the need for guaranteed sick leave.
The people you work for might be fed up with "the COVID excuse" — but plenty of American workers still need to use it.
Richard Onken, owner of an architecture and design firm in Elkhorn, Nebraska, recently told The Washington Post's Gwynn Guilford and Lauren Weber that COVID barely registers as a reason to miss work anymore.
"Clients are done with the Covid excuse," he said. "They're not listening to it anymore. 'Oh, you've got someone with Covid, well, who's going to pick up the slack and take their place for a week or two while they're out?'"
More than two years into the pandemic, an average of about 630,000 more workers per month than pre-pandemic are calling out sick for a week or more, according to Labor Department data.
"When we're talking about sick leave, we're talking about people's lives, their health, and the health of their families and there's nothing more important than that," Jess Raimundo, director of communications at United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told Insider. "UFCW fights hard to ensure guaranteed sick leave is included in our contracts so employers can't simply cut back on leave because they're 'tired of excuses.'"
On top of those calling in sick, another half a million US workers have stopped working due to symptoms from previous infections — or "long COVID" — according to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the Brookings Institution similarly finding that 0.2% to 0.4% of workers were shed in the last few years.
That could be because 14% of workers in the US didn't have access to sick leave as of this March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When it comes to low-wage employees, over 60% don't have access to sick leave, according to a September study from the Economic Policy Institute.
While the US had limited mandatory sick-leave policy for the COVID-19 pandemic, it only applied to a small number of companies. It has long ceased, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have gradually lifted many of its rules concerning masking and social distancing.
Though the number of people still out sick for a week or more accounts for about 0.4% of the labor force, and only about 0.1% more than during the same period last year.
"That may sound tiny, but having that persistent difference over a period of two-and-a-half years is a big deal," Jason Faberman, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told The Washington Post.
Low-wage workers have reported that their bosses and companies have pressured them to come in person while ill, and with the remaining popularity of remote-work options, people are just not logging off when they get sick.
"Employers should want their workers to use their sick leave and stay healthy, but too often they prioritize profits over the people who keep their companies running," Raimundo said.