Nobody wants to get the flu. But workers who are concerned that they could be laid off at any moment, or who don’t even get sick pay, really don’t want to get the flu.
Waiters, child-care employees, coffee shop staffers, and cashiers at big-box stores are among the nation’s workers who are unlikely to get paid when they don’t show up to work due to illness. They’re also among the workers who are very likely to interact directly with the public. Seeing as few workers are able to go without a paycheck for all that long, is this a disaster waiting to happen?
From the NY Times:
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….
“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.
So your kid might get sick because someone else feels like they have no choice but to send their kid to school.
Understandably, workers without sick pay are especially paranoid about catching the flu. From the AP:
Kara Knoche, 28, is worried about getting swine flu and the money she would lose by missing a week of work. The Atlanta waitress is downing Vitamin C supplements, going out of her way to eat immune system-boosting foods and avoiding friends with the sniffles or hacking coughs.
“If you don’t save up, you’re basically behind and you’re broke. Every dollar you make after that is probably going to go to bills,” she said. “That makes for a very hard month. A person has to eat.”
One Chicago-area real estate agent explains the potential double whammy facing so many workers:
“It’s horrible when you feel so crappy and you realize that you are losing money at the same time,” she said.
Big companies that employ most workers with full benefits are preparing for a major outbreak. They’re cross-training employees, so that production won’t be slowed down when one cog in the wheel has to stay in bed for a few days. From the WSJ:
Worried they could face throngs of ill and absent employees, companies are devising plans to keep their offices and factories running. They also hope to prevent or limit the spread of infection in the workplace by installing hand-sanitizer dispensers and thermal scanners, ordering workers to wipe down their desks and phones, and asking employees who don’t feel well to stay home.
That’s all and good. But actually convincing employees it’s OK to take some time to lay on the couch under a blanket in today’s fragile economic atmosphere is a different thing. While official company policy may be to stay home when you’re sick, most employees are well aware of the all-important “face time” factor. By showing up to work when you’re not feeling 100%, the theory goes, you’re demonstrating what a reliable, dedicated worker you are. During a period when 7.6 million Americans have lost their jobs, this is something that every worker hopes to demonstrate—and hopes stays in the minds of the powers that be when it’s time for the next round of layoffs.