To stem the spread of the swine flu, the common advice coming from the Obama Administration and public health experts is: if you’re a sick worker, stay at home. If you’re the parent of a sick child, keep them out of school until they feel better.
Some pretty knowledgeable folks are also chiming in with some words on the business side of things:
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a guy who probably knows a two or thing about business best practices said, “If an employee stays home sick, it’s not only the best thing for that employee’s health, but also his co-workers and the productivity of the company.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose primary charge is to keep Americans healthy said, “one of the most important things that employers can do is to make their human resources and leave policies are flexible and follow public health guidance.”
And finally, the Centers for Disease Control, in their guidance to employers: “During an influenza pandemic, all sick people should stay home and away from the workplace… Regardless of the size of the business or the function or services that you provide, all employers should plan now to allow and encourage sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs.”
Common sense advice, right? Too bad that for half of North Carolina’s workers, they just don’t have the option to stay home from work when they’re sick without risking a day’s pay or even their job.
That’s because thousands of employers have not historically been following Secretary Locke, Sec. Sebelius, and the CDC’s line of thinking. More than 1.6 million North Carolina workers lack a single paid sick days to take care of themselves or a sick family member.
So when H1N1 symptoms start showing up, these workers are just going to have to arm themselves with hand sanitizer, tissues, some medicine and hope that they don’t get everyone else sick and cause a workplace outbreak. Or send their child to school sick because they can’t afford to take a day off without pay.
Especially in today’s economy, with six workers for every single job opening, workers are particularly pressed to do everything in their power to hold on to their jobs. Missing a day due to flu symptoms is simply not a feasible option.
Legislation was introduced in North Carolina to provide workers with a minimum number of paid sick days (HB 177/SB 534) and federal legislation, the Healthy Families Act, is now beginning to pick up steam in Congress that would do the same.
Perhaps Secretary Locke and Secretary Sebelius could use their soapbox to add another sentence to their sensible advice and say:
“Mr President, we believe it is essential that you and Congress act now to ensure that working families don’t risk their financial security to do what is right for their own health and the public health of their workplaces, schools and communities. Please pass the Healthy Families Act to guarantee all workers a basic number of paid sick days.”
It sure would make it easier for those workers to listen to them. And, more importantly, it would make it easier to improve public health and restore dignity to the workplace.