Not a good sign around the water cooler. Photo by John Liu via flickr.

In TIME’s online Ideas section, Columbia’s Shamus Khan makes a reasonable proposition: let sick people stay home and get well. “While we typically look to doctors and medicines in a health crisis,” such as the current flu outbreak, “we should recognize that guaranteeing paid sick days to workers could do as much, if not more, to help moderate the impact…”

Khan goes on to cite the 40% of American workers who have no paid sick days and point out that “this is not just inhumane but a matter of public health.”

The jobs with the most contact with the public are the least likely to provide sick days… when you go to purchase a cup of coffee or eat at a restaurant, know that almost all (76%) of the people serving you are likely to show up to work sick, because not doing so means not getting paid and could mean getting fired. Scholars have a name for this—presenteeism: being at work when you otherwise should not for fear of losing your job or beng viewed by your boss as lazy or unreliable.

While New York’s leadership has declined to support paid sick leave policies, San Francisco has implemented one and saw higher rates of employment. “Paid sick leave works,” Khan concludes. Employees stay home and get well, spread less disease, and are less likely to visit emergency rooms (saving themselves and the wider healthcare system millions).