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Poll shows that almost half of U.S. workers believe work is a stressful or unhealthy place

A new poll conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that many people believe that work is bad for their health.  Here are some of the key findings about working adults in the U.S.:

  • 43% say that their work negatively affects their stress levels;
  • 28% say that their work has a bad effect on their eating habits;
  • 27% say that their work negatively affects their sleep; and
  • 22% say that there is something about their workplace which is harmful to their health.

“The takeaway here is that job No. 1 for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace,” said Robert J. Blendon, of the Harvard Chan School, who directed the poll.

Workers in lower paying jobs are more likely to have stressful or unhealthy workplaces than those in higher paying jobs.  45% of lower paid workers say that they have faced dangerous conditions at work compared to 33% of workers in higher paid jobs.  A majority of lower paid workers say that work has a bad impact on their stress levels compared to 41% of workers in average and high paying jobs.  And 65% of low paid workers report that they go to work even when they are sick compared to 55% of workers in average paying jobs and 48% in high paying jobs.

These statistics about workers going to work sick are troubling not only from the perspective of the workers who go to work sick but also the health of their co-workers and the public.  Some of these workers go to work sick because their workloads don’t allow them to use sick leave available to them.  However, only 38% of low paid workers get paid sick leave.  The 62% of low paid workers without paid sick leave may risk losing their jobs if they take sick leave.  These workers include restaurant and health care workers.  50% of restaurant workers and 60% of workers in medical fields always or most of the time go to work when they have a cold or the flu.  These sick restaurant and medical workers undoubtedly spread their colds and flus to the people they serve.

A surprisingly high percentage of workers reported dangerous conditions in their workplaces.  40% of workers said that they often or sometimes experience dangerous conditions at work.  For workers that work over 50 hours per week, more than half of them reported that they often or sometimes experienced dangerous conditions at work.

This poll shows that workers too often feel compelled to work while they are sick or under dangerous conditions.  There are laws that apply to Maine workers which entitle some of them to sick leave, although not paid sick leave.  There are laws, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which are designed to prevent dangerous working conditions.  There are also Workers Compensation laws that entitle workers to compensation when they get injured at work.  Given the high percentage of workers who report going to work sick or under dangerous conditions, it is important that existing laws are enforced and strengthened.  The Maine Employee Rights Group has decades of experience representing workers that face health or safety issues that impact their work.

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