Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lack of Paid Sick Days May Worsen Flu Pandemic

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.

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.

“If you’re sick, they encourage you to stay home, but I couldn’t afford to take off if I wasn’t going to get paid,” said Ms. Carter, 29, who said she stuck to her small work area to avoid spreading the flu.

Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a group of 30,000 public health professionals, said, “Providing workers with paid sick days is essential if we’re going to get serious about the public health recommendations for swine flu — stay home until 24 hours after your fever is broken. That usually takes about five days.”

For many businesses, H1N1 has created a dilemma. “This is a very difficult issue for companies,” said Nina G. Stillman, a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who advises companies on sick-leave policy. “Employers who do not offer sick days are not prepared to offer them now, and they recognize that this may result in not achieving what they say they would like, which is that people who are sick stay home.”

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