‘Tis the season: flu season. You’re coughing, sniffling, achy, and feverish. While climbing back into bed with the box of tissues by your side sounds like a great idea, do you do it? Or do you drag yourself to work?
If you are one of the estimated 40% of American workers who have no paid sick days, it’s likely that you will dose up on some over the counter medication and head to work.
Under current U.S. labor law, employers are not required to provide short-term paid sick days or longer-term paid sick leave causing tens of millions of workers to go without paid sick time. Millions of workers each year go to work sick resulting in decreased productivity and increased risk of spreading germs and illness to co-workers, clients and customers.
As the number of flu cases increases, so does the debate surrounding paid sick leave. While we can probably all agree that if you’re sick the best place for you is at home resting, getting well and keeping your germs to yourself. But for many, their financial situation and workplace policies dictate otherwise.
For Diana Zavala, a school speech therapist working as an independent contractor, missing work was not an option even though she was feeling miserable and fearful she had caught the flu. As she puts it, not having paid sick time creates “a balancing act” between physical health and financial well-being.
According to Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who are calling on colleagues in the House and Senate to cosponsor the Healthy Families Act (HFA), it doesn’t have to be this way. DeLauro, who initially introduced the plan with Senator Edward M. Kennedy back in 2004, plans to reintroduce HFA with Harkin in mid-February.
Under the HFA, workers would be eligible to earn up to 1 hour of paid sick time for each 30 hours worked, up to 7 days of leave.
But many employers and small business owners, while sympathetic to their employees’ situations, find themselves in the midst of their own financial struggles and say requiring them to pay employees for sick days would impose an unrealistic and impractical burden.
It’s a tough call: assist employees at the cost of the company or vice-versa? We mustn’t forget the other important dynamic that needs to be taken into consideration: the well-being of customers and clients.
While paying a sick employee for the day off might not be the best financial option for your business, neither is losing customers because your barista is making the morning lattes while hacking with a cough, a sneezing waitress is delivering lunch to the table or a feverish executive is spreading more germs than ideas around the conference table.
It will be interesting to see what, if any, compromises can be made to protect the interests of all involved: employers, employees and consumers.