Flu season and paid-sick-days debate

With the flu spreading nationwide, a lot of the advice from public health officials, beyond getting the flu shot, has been to be careful not to spread influenza if you have it.

That means keeping your distance if you’ve got the flu, and the best way to do that is to stay home if you’re sick.

This simple concept, however, isn’t that simple for people who can’t afford to take a day off of work because they don’t have paid sick days.

The flu season is yet again sparking a national debate over paid sick leave, according to a story on NBCNews.com today:

An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to a cause that has scored victories but also hit roadblocks in recent years: mandatory paid sick leave for a third of civilian workers — more than 40 million people — who don’t have it.

Supporters and opponents are particularly watching New York City, where lawmakers are weighing a sick leave proposal amid a competitive mayoral race.

No matter where you stand on the sick-days debate, there is no denying such leave benefits would be helpful, said Ken Matos, senior director of employment research and practice with Families and Work Institute.

He pointed out that:

Many jobs without sick leave are strong infection vectors (cleaning and food service workers) resulting in expanding networks of infection.

Sick leave is also an aspect of economic security as it helps people remain financially solvent during periods of illness especially in low paid jobs where people may not have much savings. Our findings show that economic security is the effective workplace dimension that contributes the most to job satisfaction and probability of retention.

“The usual response that organizations give to not offering sick leave is a thin profit margin forcing lean staffing and sick leave will result in being understaffed and/or over budget and that employees will abuse it.” Matos explained.

However, research from the Institute shows a lack of abuse when it comes to short-notice leave and sick leave.

Other factors pointing to sick-time positives, Matos stressed:

A sick employee can be worse than being understaffed, especially if they are visible to customers who may not trust the products they are buying or see the employer in a negative light.

In addition, sick employees are going to tire faster and probably make more mistakes, especially if they need to take drugs that make them drowsy to get to work.

“These additional, less obvious costs should also be considered when forcing an employee to come to work or go unpaid or be fired,” he maintained.

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