Swine Flu and Mandated Sick Days

I guess if (when?) I get the swine flu I’ll just stay home. Hey, I do that most days anyway. Not everyone is so fortunate. The fact that many people — including many single parents — have to make a decision about going to work sick or not getting paid is triggering discussion about an important issue: mandated sick days and time off the job. And it’s controversial — especially from the standpoint of many small-business owners.

It is also an issue that is starting to gain national news coverage — and legislative interest. Here’s from a NYT article by Steven Greenhouse, “Lack of Paid Sick Days May Worsen Flu Pandemic“:

Public health experts worried about the spread of the H1N1 flu are raising concerns that workers who deal with the public, like waiters and child care employees, are jeopardizing others by reporting to work sick because they do not get paid for days they miss for illness.

Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.

This causes a dilemma for many employees — and employers. And in that environment, can legislation be far behind? From the NYT article:

Many worker groups and women’s groups have seized on the H1N1 pandemic to argue that Congress should enact legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. San Francisco and Washington have enacted such legislation, but similar measures face obstacles in Congress.

“Sometimes you talk about legislation in the abstract, but this is making people begin to understand the problem,” said Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and lead sponsor in the House of a bill, with more than 100 co-sponsors, that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven paid sick days a year.

Business groups oppose such legislation, calling it expensive and unnecessary. They say that employers already allow and even encourage sick employees to stay home.

“The vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “The problem is not nearly as great as some people say. Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”

If you were sick with swine flu — or whatever — would you stay home if it meant not getting paid?

I’ve never had to make that decision. Others do.

Stay tuned. This is an issue that isn’t going away — even after the swine flu emergency is just a memory.

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