AT THE OFFICE: An epidemic of bad sick leave policy
Workers in Mexico and some places in Texas went back to work last week after the flu emergency was declared over and their forced absences ended. A pandemic bullet may have been dodged this time, as it was with previous flu scares. But despite re...
Workers in Mexico and some places in Texas went back to work last week after the flu emergency was declared over and their forced absences ended.
A pandemic bullet may have been dodged this time, as it was with previous flu scares. But despite repeated glimpses into the workplace effects of public health emergencies, many employers have yet to create appropriate policies.
The Mexican government announced a stimulus package for businesses that lost revenue because of closures, but there's no remedy as yet for the lost income of workers who were prevented from working.
What if such widespread shutdowns occurred in the United States?
Worker advocacy organizations note that we lag other developed nations in having laws that allow employees to stay home when they're sick -- or when others are sick -- without fear of job loss or severe financial consequences.
This may not seem like a big deal to workers who enjoy liberal sick-day or personal-days-off policies. But 57 million U.S. workers (about half the labor force) do not have paid-time-off coverage.
When they take a day off, it's unpaid, and many risk losing their jobs. That's true among three out of four low-wage, hourly workers and especially true among about nine out of 10 food-service workers. In a public health scare, it's hard to think of any worker whom we'd least like to come to work sick than someone who serves our food.
The Centers for Disease Control and even President Barack Obama have told American workers to stay home if they're ill, but when the choice is a paycheck or nothing, there's often no choice.
There's a Healthy Families Act proposed in Congress that would require certain-size businesses to provide up to seven paid days off a year for employee sick days.
Jay Zweig, a lawyer who focuses on this aspect of employment law, says labor law doesn't currently require, and neither should one expect, employers to pay for days off that are forced "by an act of God."
Jim Holland, a Fisher & Phillips lawyer, suggests that employers could mute the cost of extended employee absences by buying an insurance policy for short-term disability and salary continuation programs.
Broadly, the recurrence of pandemic threats should be a wake-up call to employers to review and perhaps revise attendance and paid-time-off policies.
A study last year by the University of Chicago found that more than two-thirds of employees without paid sick days had gone to work with the flu or other contagious illness.
A few cities (Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington) have local measures requiring paid sick days, but there's no national standard. And that could worsen the next public health threat.
(Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Her "Your Job" blog at economy.kansascity.com includes daily posts about job-related issues of wide interest. She can be reached at email@example.com .)