How much sense does this make: Retail and restaurant workers, who come into more direct contact with the average customer than any other job, are the least likely to have paid sick leave as a benefit. Having to choose between showing up to work ill and getting paid for the day is a regular dilemma for the people that handle most of the nation’s food and products. That’s the kind of thing that makes me sick.

In the last State of the Union address President Obama urged Congress to require more generous leave policies from employers, stressing the importance of a paid sick leave accrual system for the 43 million American workers who don’t have one at their current jobs.

The mandate comes during a flu season where the CDC warns that vaccines are only about 25% effective, and measles outbreaks are making a comeback. But it’s not just a political show pony – the benefits of paid sick leave go far beyond individual health, and it could be a valuable key to keeping our economy running smoothly in the foreseeable future.

See also: Mandatory sick leave measures spark employer resistance

Missed work due to illness costs employers in the US $225 billion annually, and the cost of presenteeism – or diminished performance resulting from attending work sick or under the influence of medication – is estimated at $150 billion or higher. We can do better than that.

But wouldn’t more paid sick leave, let alone mandatory sick leave result in even more lost productivity? The answer is a big fat “no”, as we have plenty of research showing that paid leave actually increases morale and productivity in addition to reducing absenteeism and turnover. It also has hidden benefits:

•   It reduces government spending by saving on extraneous healthcare and public assistance costs

•   It realizes savings for employers by reducing workplace contagions, injuries, and accidents due to presenteeism

•   It improves the overall health of your employees by giving them more time to recuperate and allowing for timelier preventative and primary care

The state of Connecticut passed a mandatory sick leave bill last year, and the numbers don’t lie. Employers saw little to no impact on overall expenses, while 15% saw increased productivity, 20% saw a reduction in sick workers coming into the office, and 30% saw a notable improvement in employee morale. A healthy workforce is a happy workforce, and when we’re all healthier we all benefit.

See also: Obama sick-leave proposal would create ‘nightmare’ for employers

83% of workers who are paid $65,000 and up annually have mandatory sick days, but just 28 percent of workers who are paid less than $20,000 each year are given the means to earn them.

In a time when income inequality is a hot-button issue, paid leave is also becoming an indicator of societal status rather than company success, and more people are beginning to notice. The country’s attitude toward paid leave is changing; in fact, some local governments have already taken matters into their own hands.

San Francisco was the first U.S. city to make paid sick leave mandatory in 2007 through a citizen ballot initiative. Since the law was enacted in San Francisco, their job market has been stronger than the state of California as a whole, and compares favorably with surrounding counties. Similar legislation followed shortly after in D.C., Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, with New York and Connecticut joining the club most recently.

Sick leave bills have also been recently introduced in the state legislatures of Nebraska, South Carolina, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, and Maryland. We say keep them coming. No one should be forced to work under the specter of losing their job just for catching a common cold.  

Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing and communications with Michael C. Fina.

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