Lack of Paid Sick Days May Worsen Flu Pandemic

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Mandy Pillar, a nurse in Kansas, said students were coming to school sick because their parents had to work.

This issue of paid sick leave and families was on my mind this week as well. Our daughter was home sick with a cold for two days. My husband and I have the best of all scenarios: we’re both self-employed, can work from home if we need to, and grandma is five minutes away. So between working remotely and a day with grandma, the worst we had to deal with was the logistics of it all without missing time on our jobs. But I couldn’t help but think how difficult it would have been if we’d been faced instead with decisions like: Can we afford for one of us to take a day off? Which one of us? Can she make it through the day at school even if she’s sick?

There has to be a better way, for families and for our public health.

Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times writes:

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.

Mandy Pillar said when swine flu struck, her school in Wichita, Kan., was sending a dozen students home sick each day.

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.

Public health experts say policies like these encourage many people with H1N1, commonly called swine flu, to report to work despite official warnings from the government and most companies that they should stay home.

“For people who are really caught on a weekly income, if they can’t make a go of it, they might say, ‘I’m desperate. I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’m going into work even though I’m sick,’” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard.

He warned that this might spread disease, and that these financially squeezed workers might send their flu-stricken children to school, infecting others.

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Filed under Career-Life Fit, Family Work, Healthcare, Workplace and Employment

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