4 in 10 Workers – and 6 in 10 of Those with Low Incomes – Say They Missed Work During the Omicron Surge Due to COVID-19 Illness, Quarantine or Closure

1 in 10 Workers, Including 3 in 10 with Low Incomes, Say They Went to Work with COVID-19 Symptoms or After Being Exposed Because They Couldn’t Afford to Miss Work

The surge in COVID-19 cases triggered by the omicron variant led to widespread work disruptions, with about 4 in 10 workers (42%) – including 6 in 10 of those with lower incomes – saying they had to miss work at least once in the past three months because of a COVID-19 illness, quarantine, or closure, a new KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report shows.

Among all workers, a quarter (26%) say they missed work because they had to quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure, 20% missed work after testing positive, and 13% missed work because their employer was closed or had reduced hours due to COVID-19 concerns. In addition, nearly 3 in 10 employed parents (28%) say they had to miss work to stay home with a child who had to quarantine or because their child’s school went virtual.

Among lower-income workers (with annual household incomes below $40,000), 6 in 10 (60%) say they had to miss work in the past three months for at least one of these reasons. This includes a third (35%) who say they missed work because their workplace had closed or reduced hours due to the pandemic.

“Without adequate paid sick leave and needing a paycheck, it’s not surprising that some workers – especially those with lower incomes – went to work with COVID-19 symptoms or after being exposed because they couldn’t afford not to,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said. “The unfortunate result is that they could help to spread the virus to others while on the job.”

Overall, about 1 in 10 (11%) workers say they went to work with COVID-19 symptoms or after being exposed to someone with the virus because they couldn’t afford to take time off work. Among lower-income workers, the share rises to 3 in 10 (29%).

Among workers whose employer does not offer paid time off if they get sick, 15% say they have gone into work when they had COVID-19 symptoms or had been exposed because they couldn’t afford to take the time off.

In addition, a small share (5%) of working parents say they sent a child to school or daycare when they had symptoms or had been exposed to the virus because they couldn’t take time off work.

Among those workers who had to miss work due to COVID-19 or had to keep their child home from school, most (62%) say that it impacted their family’s stress level and 4 in 10 (44%) say it impacted their family’s finances. This includes about 1 in 5 who say that missing work had a “major impact” on their family’s stress level (22%) or finances (19%).

The report also shows that about 3 in 10 adults (29%) report difficulties paying their household and health care bills over the past three months. That’s a somewhat smaller share than in February 2021 (37%) or in July 2020 (38%), when many businesses remained closed and the unemployment rate was higher.

Larger shares of Black (48%) and Hispanic (34%) adults, as well as people in low-income households earning less than $40,000 annually (47%), continue to report recent financial struggles.

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the Vaccine Monitor survey was conducted from February 9-21, 2022 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,502 adults. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (172) and cell phone (1,330). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and qualitative research, this project tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as vaccine development and distribution unfold, including vaccine confidence and hesitancy, trusted messengers, and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.