Sick leave: What’s the trade off?
Posted January 22, 2013on:
The above rather colorful image is an image of a flu “bug”. It’s actually kind of cute if you ask me, pretty colors and all. Yet we know what the little bugger is capable of; knocking us to our knees when we catch it. And apparently, from the graphic below courtesy of the CDC, it’s hitting a bunch of us right now.
And so begins the great debate of whether working people should have or be eligible for “sick leave”. The term sick leave can have a number of meanings for we Americans. It can mean that you are too ill to work and your boss simply says “don’t come in today”. For some folks (usually in larger organizations or [shudder] *the government worker*) it can mean employees have a defined, written policy wherein they “earn” sick leave hours under some formula. And sadly for some folks who work in small organizations there is no provision for it at all. There will always be the old arguments of “We can’t afford to give that benefit” to “if someone is sick, someone else has to cover for them and work in their place” to any number of excuses. But think about this: Do you want the food worker at McDonalds or whatever restaurant you choose, to come in sick with the flu and then possibly pass it on to you? According to a survey conducted by the National Consumers League there’s a good chance that will happen because food and restaurant workers very rarely get sick leave.
79 percent of workers in the food industry and a whopping 90 percent of restaurant workers report having no paid sick days, despite the obvious hazard posed by food workers coming to their jobs while sick. According to a new survey commissioned by the National Consumer League, Americans believe that should [sic] chang.
And further according to Michelle McIntyre of the NCL:
“Without having the benefit of paid sick days, restaurant workers can’t afford to be sick and are forced to come to work — and handle consumers’ food — when they should be at home resting,” said NCL’s Michell McIntyre. “Providing paid sick days is very clearly in the interest of consumers and the workers who handle their food.”
And also, it’s not just food or restaurant workers. Let’s say you are on that business trip (Hey Mad!) and you are checking into the hotel. Unfortunately for you, the guest checking in right before you had the flu and then sneezed before they could get a tissue out to catch it. Congrats, you just got exposed to the flu. But what about that desk clerk that just checked you in and took your credit card and handed it back to you along with your room key? What happens when that person is coming in to work sick and meeting and greeting guests each day? Or for that matter, what about the housekeepers? A large number of people who work in the lodging business do not have sick leave either and it is a choice of going in to work or staying at home not getting paid.
But this is not just a situation that affects the burger-flipper at McDonalds or the desk clerk at your Holiday Inn:
40 percent of private sector workers and a whopping 80 percent of low-income workers do not have a single paid sick day. One in five workers reports losing their job or being threatened with dismissal for wanting to take time off while sick.
And still other types of workers, such as contract workers can be affected by this also.
Sniffling, groggy and afraid she had caught the flu, Diana Zavala dragged herself in to work anyway for a day she felt she couldn’t afford to miss.
A school speech therapist who works as an independent contractor, she doesn’t have paid sick days. So the mother of two reported to work and hoped for the best — and was aching, shivering and coughing by the end of the day. She stayed home the next day, then loaded up on medicine and returned to work.
“It’s a balancing act” between physical health and financial well-being, she said.
Business groups for the most part are very much against giving employees any other benefits and will cite the tenuous economy as a reason for not giving paid sick days.
Michael Sinensky, an owner of seven bars and restaurants around the city, was against the sick time proposal before Sandy. And after the storm shut down four of his restaurants for days or weeks, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that his insurers have yet to pay, “we’re in survival mode.”
“We’re at the point, right now, where we cannot afford additional social initiatives,” said Sinensky, whose roughly 500 employees switch shifts if they can’t work, an arrangement that some restaurateurs say benefits workers because paid sick time wouldn’t include tips.
I suppose that’s an argument that can (and has) been made, but as the National Partnership for Women and Families noted, paid sick days don’t just benefit workers, but businesses and the economy as well:
Replacing workers can cost anywhere from 25 to 200 percent of annual compensation. Paid sick days result in reduced turnover, which leads to reduced costs incurred from advertising, interviewing and training new hires. This is particularly important in lower-wage industries where turnover is highest. Employers also reap the benefits of greater worker loyalty…Paid sick days help to decrease the productivity lost when employees work sick – known as “presenteeism” – which is estimated to cost our national economy $160 billion annually, surpassing the cost of absenteeism. The majority of human resources executives agree that presenteeism is a problem because of potential productivity loss and the risk of spreading infection.
For an average family, “missing work for just three-and-a-half days results in lost wages equivalent to an entire month’s grocery bill.” Paid sick days guard against that outcome, while ensuring that businesses stay productive.
I know it’s a pipe dream but paid sick leave is certainly an idea that’s come. And yes it probably is a pipe dream when you have the Koch Bros and ALEC controlling or influencing our state legislators and our congress critters but we can dream can’t we?
This is an open thread.
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