Businesses have been steadily reducing the number of paid sick days provided to employees with many jobs offering none — you get sick, you take unpaid time off.
And many businesses offer no specific sick days, but rather Paid Time Off. The PTO is a set number of earned paid days off to be used for vacation, sick time or any other reason. So, if you have 10 PTO days and get sick, are you going to use a couple of your days to stay home? No, you’ll cough on your co-workers so you can take your days off when you feel good and the weather’s nice and you can go to the lake.
And there’s always the whole guilt problem. Employees don’t want to let co-workers down and often have a sneaking suspicion that even though the boss said people should stay home when they’re sick, they may not really mean it. This is particularly a problem in Minnesota where our work ethics and guilt levels are unreasonably high.
And when parents are reluctant or financially unable to take time off from work, their children are much more likely to be sent to school sick — further fueling an outbreak.
A few major cities require a minimum number of paid sick days that must be provided by businesses with the number of days increasing for larger employers. Connecticut just became the first state to require paid sick leave, though businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt.
And President Obama has called for a federal sick-day mandate that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven paid days for their own or a family member’s illness.
So government could step in to reduce influenza outbreaks in two ways: requiring businesses to give paid sick time and by sinking serious money into developing and producing an effective flu vaccine.
Both, of course, run up against those who worry about government intrusion and those who want less government spending.
So, for now anyway, cover your cough, get a flu shot and hope you’re lucky.
Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.