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Five days to stop a pandemic? Nah. It’s too much

Submitted by on Tuesday, 17 November 2009 2 Comments

What would it be worth to you to stop swine flu from spreading? Would $290 a week be too much of an investment?

That’s how much it would cost to let a minimum-wage worker stay home for five days and recover from the flu – a worker that the Centers of Disease Control estimates could infect up to 10 other people by showing up sick.

Five days is the amount of paid leave a bill by U.S. Rep. George Miller would give workers whose bosses tell them to stay home during the pandemic – Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Rosa DeLauro are  sponsoring similar bills.

And business groups are, of course, balking. The legislation is too costly to business and, besides, it’s not needed.

“While some employers may not have taken specific action in response to the H1N1 outbreak, these employers are clearly the exception to the widespread practices taking place today,” A.  Bruce Clarke of the National Association of Manufacturers told Congress this week. “These types of creative approaches are the result of flexibility that employers have to develop policies that best fit their workforce needs.”

“Some” employers? Perhaps that’s true in manufacturing, but across all segments of public-sector employment, only 51 percent of the nation’s workers have some form of paid sick leave. Almost 60 million workers have no paid sick leave at all.

Restaurant workers are the least likely to have paid sick leave – would you like some freshly spewed H1N1 with your salad?

“Creative approaches”? By that, Clarke means telecommuting, advancing sick days from the next year – that’s a neat trick if  you don’t get any to begin with – or letting employees work extra hours once they’ve recovered. Perhaps the business could also write an IOU to the employee’s landlord.

The neat thing about Miller’s bill is that it bypasses the second most-cited business fear or sick leave – that if it’s offered, workers will abuse it – by making it the boss’s call to send the employee home. The most-cited concern is, of course, cost.

And there’s no way around that: There is a dollar figure attached. But there’s also a dollar figure attached workers who hack and bark through a shift. Some studies estimate that people who go to work sick actually cost companies more than those who stay home.

The bill isn’t what Miller wants in the long run – he prefers another DeLauro bill that would let workers accrue up to seven paid sick days a year. Miller’s bill expires after two years and applies only to the flu.

But it’s a start. Perhaps after two  years business will see that the world did not come to an end because sick workers were allowed to stay home without fear of losing their jobs or not being able to pay their bills.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Leslie K said:

    Get this: I work for the government. We have been getting these flyers for over a year now urging people to stay home if they are sick – BUT, policy and procedure is in place that states unequivocably that people who take more than 32 hours in a quarter of sick leave will be written up by their boss. that is 4 days if you work an 8 hr day….but most of us work 9/80 or 4/10

    hypocrisy? YA THINK???????????/

  • Debra said:

    Oh I just LOVE it when companies/agencies give sick leave and then get snarky when people try to use it. I once had a job evaluation I wrote questioned because I rated the employee highly and then someone pointed out that the employee had used all sick leave in the past year. Yes, and said employee had several young children who have a nasty habit of getting SICK. Grr……….

    I think your situation is even worse, though. A case of the flu – the CDC recommends five days off – could easily trigger disciplinary action. Sheesh.