Companies in the United States handle their employees getting sick inconsistently. There are no federal requirements for employees to receive paid time off when ill — though there are laws permitting unpaid leave — which means the country has a patchwork of approaches to sick leave. Attention to sick days has expanded following the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent studies of its effect on mental health.
A YouGov poll of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens explores Americans' view of physical health, mental health, and how people want to see sick days being allotted and used. Here are five major findings:
- Americans say companies should allow sick days to be used for many reasons and purposes
In some workplaces, an employee's allotment of sick days are not reserved only for when they are physically ill. Some companies have changed the classification of sick days to "wellness days" that people can use for physical ailments and also for a mental respite. When it comes to how businesses should permit their employees to use sick days, Americans generally support companies allowing workers to apply these days for a large set of circumstances, including surgery (78% strongly support, 11% somewhat support) and feeling physically exhausted (33% strongly support, 31% somewhat support).
- Younger Americans are more likely to support people using sick days when healthy
Younger Americans, in particular, are more willing to use sick days non-traditionally, with 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds saying that people should be allowed to use all of the sick days provided to them, regardless of whether they are sick when they use them. About half of 30- to 64-year-olds agree, compared to just 36% of people who are 65 and older. Most Americans 65 and older (55%) say people should only be allowed to use the sick days provided to them if they are actually sick — a position shared by 56% of the people in this age group who are retired.
- Americans say companies should be required to give paid sick days
Many Americans say they would like to U.S. businesses start to be required to give paid sick time. By 54% to 21%, Americans say businesses should be required to provide paid time off to employees who are mentally unwell. Support is higher — 62% to 17% — for paid sick time for employees who are physically unwell.
- Americans see mental health and physical health as having significant effects on one another
Majorities of Americans in each major age group say that mental health has a very or somewhat significant impact on their physical health, and vice versa. Women are slightly more likely than men to say mental health has a significant impact on their physical health (78% vs. 71%), as well as the reverse (78% vs. 72%).
- Attitudes to mental health days in school
Just as some companies are expanding their definition of sick days, colleges and universities are beginning to offer students broadly defined "wellness days" off of school. Most Americans approve of allowing students to take excused mental health days off of school just as they would be allowed to stay home sick for physical illness — with similar levels of support for students in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. For each level of education, Democrats are more approving than Republicans are of allowing mental health days.
This poll was conducted on October 4 - 6, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (Prostock-studio)