May 19, 2009

Now That's Sickening

When I used to work at a retail store, (I'll refrain from saying which one or what kind) I came to work when I was sick. Yep, coughing all over the customers, sneezing on their money, wiping all my germs all over the register and generally doing my best to spread colds and flu like they were going out of style.

Was I an evil villain from a cartoon series, working in cahoots with Captain Congestion and Lady Laryngitis to incapacitate the whole world for the sheer joy of it? Or an undercover agent paid by Big Pharma to boost sales? Not exactly. I had no paid sick days--so time away from work was money lost. And with bills to pay and no room in the budget to spare, a loss of money was not really a viable option.

And I was far from unusual. Millions of American workers are in the same boat: no paid sick days and no way to rest and recover from an illness, without taking a financial hit. As Ezra Klein says of companies today (in his new blog for The Washington Post):
Many don't offer paid sick days because they don't think doing so will make them money. That is to say, they make marginally more money by letting their workers fall ill. That may be a good decision for the employer. But it's not good for the worker. And it's an appalling state of affairs. Residents of the world's richest nation should be able to stay home when they have the flu.
And IS it a" good decision for the employer?" What if many of their employees fall ill? What if their customers start getting sick, and business drops once word gets out? What if the sick employee doesn't just have the flu--but the swine flu? What then?

I don't have to come to work as a human infection any more, thanks to the union I belong to and the paid sick days I get as a result. And many union members around the country are greatful for their sick days--as are their co-workers and, though they may not realize, the company's customers. But many other Americans don't have a union or anyone looking out for them--and they don't have the "luxury" of staying home when ill.

And articles like the one in the New York Times last week don't help. That article admonished workers for going in when sick, and the author--a doctor--offers that "if you show up to work sick these days, you are not going to earn anyone’s admiration."

Maybe not, but you'll earn a paycheck. And an awful lot of people can't get by without one. We need real solutions, not scolding. How about paid sick days for everyAmerican worker? It's the only solution that makes sense.