Swine Flu, Work, and Paid Sick Leave

Chuck Sheketoff

YourserverWith at least 60 cases of swine flu confirmed in the U.S. this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reminding Americans that to stop the spread of influenza people should not go to work if they are sick: “If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.”

Public health officials in Oregon are also using the outbreak to urge Oregonians to stay home when sick.

Unfortunately, that’s hard for many Oregonians because they lose a day’s pay when they are sick. By one estimate, “650,000 Oregonians—48 percent of Oregon workers—are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill.”

A 2005 study by the state Employment Department showed that fewer than half (42 percent) of Oregon private sector employers offered paid sick leave to their full-time employees, and only 15 percent offered it to part-time employees.

Fewer than one in five businesses in Oregon’s leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, offer paid sick days to their employees.

Paid sick leave is obviously important to working families and public health, but it’s also good for businesses. One study estimated that employees showing up to work sick cost U.S. businesses $150 billion a year in lost productivity — far more than the cost of letting employees stay home when sick.

Will the Oregon legislature join San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, DC, in guaranteeing paid sick leave to all workers? If not, why not?

At a minimum, shouldn’t public health officials at least warn us about which employers provide paid sick leave and which don’t so we can protect ourselves?

Should restaurants and other food establishments be required to post an honest notice about whether they provide paid sick leave?

Maybe the swine flu won’t hit Oregon and hopefully a worldwide pandemic will not occur, but the current outbreak should remind us how paid sick leave would benefit everyone.


Ocpp_final_1 Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.   You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org

Comments

  • Scott J (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Does this study provide other information about those that can't "afford" to take a sick day?

    What percent of them smoke? Drink? Drive a car less than 3 years old which is being financed? Pay 150% more for organic groceries rather than shop at Winco? Spent more than $1000 on a TV in the past 12 months?

    Please spare us the thought that they're viticms of circumstance, or greedy employers. If you can't afford to miss 3-5 days work, you've made other choices on how to spend your money.

  • Dr.Zune (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Someone who has the Swine Flu is going to probably run out of whatever paid time off they had anyway, and would probably be lucky just to live.

    Nice try though Comrade Sheketvoff. I realize your job is to attempt to find a some government solution to any crisis, preferably a solution that involves higher taxes.

  • TinyBird (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I put myself through college by working full time. Not yet having any particular skills, I worked a low-wage job for the first couple of years. Not only did that job not offer sick pay, I was threatened with a write-up for calling in sick for two days when I had the flu. Fortunately, I had a weekend to recover. The next year I had an appendectomy and was told that if I didn't get a full release to work from my doctor within a week, they would fire me. There are a lot more crappy employers like that than people probably realize. Low-skilled worker bees are considered a dime-a-dozen and are therefore expendable.

    I'm a white collar worker now, but I value the experience I gained as a low-wage blue collar worker. I learned to have a little compassion for those who struggle to make a living and feed their families. Perhaps more people should spend some time in the trenches before they write off others as being slackers who make bad spending choices. College was a pretty good spending choice, in my opinion. If I'd had children, feeding them would have been a pretty good spending choice too.

    Anyway, this paranoia regarding "socialism" is simply that --paranoia. Personally, I'm rather glad we no longer have debtor's prisons or poor houses.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Chuck, perhaps your facts could be a little distorted here. Why not go back and report the percentage of Oregon employers that offer Paid Time Off (PTO) withour calling it either "Sick" or "Vacation". also then include the number of Oregon employers who no longer offer Sick Days, but have generous paid vacation policies that crrue on a per pay period basis.

    Your post is entirely different from previous posts about paid family leave which is funded by a payroll tax on employees.

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Interesting how the two previous posters provide no solution of their own.

    Scott J seems to think that wise personal finance choices on the behalf of the infected would solve the paid time off issue Chuck raises. This perspective reminds me how only in the US can one go bankrupt for having the audacity to get sick.

    Dr. Zune suggests paid time off wouldn't be enough and the infected would be lucky just to live (and therefore we should do nothing). Does she/he also believe that if were hit by a car that, though injured, she/he would probably live (although paid time off wouldn't cover her/his recovery) and therefore we, as a society should do nothing? Dr. Zune provides no solution which implies she/he thinks the status quo is just fine.

    Both previous commenters may find it hard to stomach helping finance someone else's paid sick leave (which I can understand especially during these tight financial times). However, I'm sure they'd be vocal in their complaints should they or one of their family members became sick due to a server, coworker, or child who infected them because the choice to "simply stay home" wasn't so simple for the infected or infected's family.

    For all those who argue about self reliance, personal responsibility, and not wanting to be their brother's/sister's/neighbor's keeper, etc. etc., I suggest you are ignoring that it is actually in your self interest to help keep others from infecting you, your family members, and/or your community. No [one] is an island.

  • (Show?)

    Kurt - the paid family leave proposal in the legislature is not for workers to take leave for themselves—it is oriented to longer-term care of newborns or seriously ill family members.

    And you say "could be a little distorted." The data I reported are not distorted -- they accurately explain the report by the state Employment Department. Moreover, vacation policies are for vacation, not sick time, and I shudder to think what definition of "generous" you might come up with.

    Kurt, why do you feel so obliged to argue with everything and to use bs arguments to avoid the issue in posts? Address the issue - do you think everyone should be able to afford to stay home? Do you think it would be nice to know whether restaurant workers have paid sick leave or not? Do you really think that ad from a campaign in another state is not describing a real situation?

  • mamabigdog (unverified)
    (Show?)

    As much as paid sick leave is needed, even if we can't provide paid leave to workers, at the very least extending job security protection to people who come down with the flu would be a start. After all, for lots of workers, missing a day or two or ten due to illness would result in termination. Employers don't seem to understand that its in their best interests to allow sick workers to stay home and be sick at home rather than dragging themselves to work only to infect every single worker there. At least we could tell workers, hey- stay home and you'll still have a job. Remember FMLA and OFLA don't cover part time workers under 25 hours per week, and don't cover workers who've been on the job for less than 6 months.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Chuck, I feel obligated to argue when a false premise is being pput forward. Not acknowledging that a great many Oregon employers have a full time off bank system called "Paid time Off" or PTO is one such example of putting forth a false premise. Most of the hospital systems in Oregon use this system.

    The PTO bank idea surfaced about 8-10 years ago because employers decided that they DIDN'T CARE why an employee was taking time off, they wanted them to have the paid time avaialble if needed. It was an answer for those who used very little Sick time, but wanted more Vacation and also an answer for those who tended to over use their Sick time.

    If the Employment Department doesn't report those figures, and you were unaware of the PTO movement I apologize.

    Regarding my definition of "generous" I would call any employer plan offering up to 3 weeks off annually in addition to 8-11 paid holidays as generous for the first 2 years employment. That's a paid time off percentage exceeding 10% of scheduled work days annually.

    And I have re-read the OFLA paid leave bill. As written it would allow the eligible employee the ability to take off up to 6 weeks paid for their own serious health condition, the serious health condition of their immediate family member or for bonding time post birth or adoption/placement in foster care. We can agree that the flu or other milder type illness would not qualify under the OFLA Paid Leave Bill. It also would not apply to employers with under 50 employees I believe and part time employees who have worked less than an average of 25 hours per week in the preceeding 6 months.

    To your question - no part time workers are just that - part time. As such they generally have little or no benefits like retirement, paid time off, holiday pay or health benefits. I really don't believe knowing about restaurant workers paid time off status would change my thought process in deciding where to go eat. I'm not aware of any ads from another state regarding the situation as you describe, so can't comment.

    I can however comment on your convenient use of Influenza or Swine Flu to forward this Sick Leave agenda - many public health experts agree that a person is most contagious 2-3 days BEFORE they have symptoms significant enough to feel "sick".

  • Phoebe (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I do believe that Kurt has a good point on the PTO, but "up to" three weeks off is not very specific. Three weeks is generous for a young employee, I agree. Much less than that is not.

    Many different health organizations have said that people should stay home if they feel sick right now, so I wouldn't say this is a 'convenient use.' The situation is that governments and health organizations are saying that people should stay home. A significant portion of folks cannot do so without losing a day's pay. That does suck.

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I realize this is veering away from paid sick time, but since PTO was brought up, vacation time has been introduced into the discussion.

    Three weeks is generous for a young employee.

    Sadly, the statement above is true in the US, but the US has by far the least vacation time in the industrialized world. Most European countries grant a statutory minimum of 20 days paid vacation per year:

    http://itotd.com/articles/351/work-week-and-vacation-variances/ http://www.epi.org/economic_snapshots/entry/webfeatures_snapshots_20050824/

    Oh, and don't get me started on how much we spend in the US for healthcare vs. how much healthcare we actually receive versus our European counterparts.

  • Brian C. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    In my experience, PTO/vacation days/sick leave are typically part of a full-time employee's benefits package along with paid holidays and the rest of the perks. Without getting into a whole Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith thing, when have part-time workers ever received the same and why should government mandate that they do?

  • (Show?)

    Let me agree with tl (in sw) “that it is actually in your self interest to help keep others from infecting you, your family members, and/or your community. No [one] is an island.” Thus it is important to me and my family not only that others are able to take sick time off but that they are able to get medical care as soon as they detect symptoms.

  • rw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Typically, a new employee gets two weeks of time the first year. This ALL of their time combined PTO/Sick Leave. Then there are the typical five to nine days of vacation pay: unless you work at a hospital, where it is mandated twenty four seven shifts and you opt to use some of yoru benefits time if you want to be paid, or you work that holiday. At leas6 so it was when I worked at Legacy. Those only appeared to be paid holidays.

    Then we talk about statification of benefits so as to keep the working class fighting each other: OHSU nurses have far better benefits than the clerical and other workers. Yet those second-class workers would not have NEARLY the benefits if the nurses did not drag them slightly upwards. So, be grateful to the better-paid, better-benefited, terminally whinging nurses, or be irritated that they are so much better-paid, better-benefited, and whinging? :)... Balance and topicality be damned: let's do Marx.

  • rw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    And, Chuck: thanks for addressing the fact that many of us Oregonians are under-resourced to take care of ourselves and our families in sickness and in health. My son has had to go to many a sick daycare, adn I pay double as a single working mother with little benefit, low pay (working in non-profits means you could direct a program and be eligible for food stamps, here in ORegon). It breaks my heart to see parents taking all the time off they need if a kid has a mild cold, and my little boy had to do without mother at times when he was quite ill. I had no family backup, and had to pay relative strangers to hopefully pay attention to my sweetheart while I stayed on my feet no matter what, earning.

    It sucks, and it's more the reality than middle class or longterm stably-employed people will ever understand.

    My life is great now, in those terms, but my little boy did not get his needs met right in my eyes because I had to choose between earning the rent and keeping the program going, or going without pay. Nice choice.

  • (Show?)

    Kurt, you wrote "a great many Oregon employers have a full time off bank system called 'Paid time Off'. "

    I don't know how you define "a great many", but show me the data that supports your claim.

  • rw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kurt is out of touch. It is like when I worked in HIV - to me, the entire world was referenced thus, and some friends tried to make me see that ALL I saw was HIV b/c this was my primary focus and daily reality... whereas to the rest of the world it was small, remote, hard to care too much about save as some spectre... and so it is with the stable, the middle class or those with social buffers. You have to have more than a mere brush with the absolutely rigorous peril of instability and lack of fall-back to Get It that the preponderance of people out there, even in America, are underresourced in a number of ways.

    Kurt - did you read Nickel and Dimed yet? Her next book was really a cheap suit trick geared to make sales, did not go deep enough, but it addressed the next strata, those with educations who are being tricked and manipulated just as egregiously as the underclass you think is so thin.

    What, pray tell, is a "full time off bank system"? That makes no sense. Try to use standard HR terminology for the sake of a meaningful discussion, how about? Perhaps Chuck, the veteran here, would like to introduce a glossary.

  • rw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Whoops: correction to language - Kurt, it appears you may believe that there is more resource and fall back available to more people than is actually the case. My son works full time, and is not offered health insurance, nor can he afford it. We are holding our breath as to what is going to happen when those wisdom teeth hit. I don't have the four figures our dentist told me it will require to get that taken care of: and I've only met one dentist since coming back in 1994 who would allow me to make payments for a costly tooth business. Never mind the "full time off bank" to cover what it takes for him to get through the oral surgery and back on his feet!

  • (Show?)

    Chuck's concern is not a theoretical one. In 2008, over 400 people got the norovirus at a Chipotle's restaurant in Kent, Ohio because an employee was sick and had no paid sick leave.

    And yes, Chuck's right, this paid family leave bill doesn't address the workers' illness - just family illnesses - but it's a good start.

  • rw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Just as important as the bill will be any effort to broaden the awareness and deepen the consciousness - PERMANENTLY - of any of the readers here. It is surprising that among such a group, one would assume a depth of awareness - there may still be the need for an undefensive, statistics and anecdote-driven communication.

  • Swine Flu (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Site with up to date information on the swine flu - Swine Flu News

  • Swine Flu (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sorry site didnt go through - http://www.swine-flu-today.com

  • iggir (unverified)
    (Show?)

    i work in a company that has PTO versus vacation and sick days. what happens is people don't want to use their precious few PTO hours being sick so they come to work anyway. of course, this means that everyone around them gets sick and eventually - because of harsh illnesses like the flu - they have to take time off. this place looks like a ghost town when that happens. the people that are left can't get anything done anyway because everyone is out sick.

    the best solution would be to have sick and vacation days - more of the latter than the former. that way workers don't feel like they're losing anything when they become ill and are more likely to stay home.

    combined PTO sounds sweet until you lose half of it to illness.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "what happens is people don't want to use their precious few PTO hours being sick so they come to work anyway."

    I temped at a company that had that very problem. This was because in order to have sick time verified as used, they had to actually have a doctors note saying that they were actually sick, and no Doctor worth his/her salt would go for doing that. Even if they did get a doctor's note, it was, in the end, the decision of the person's supervisor/boss if the sickness was legitimate. So, people came to work sick because it was too much hassle, especially if it was a cold/flu, to get a doctor to adhere to the company's anal policy or obtain their supervisor's positive descretion. Not many people in that company had any real vacation either because they used the vacation time as sick time on short notice.

    It was a very sick company with lots of profit.

  • rlw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I go to work and stay hard on production even when I'm barely on my feet to protect my PTO to support my Ceremony life. Each year we go to Sundance, which requires every last scrap of PTO I can muster throughout the entire year to get there and back. I am at a wonderful company now that will NOT anally deny me one or three days unpaid to make it there and back. That last manager I had a large, influential public health entity used to deny me access to even ONE day unpaid and raged at me upon return home if, for instance, the car broke down on the way home and we were one day late! I was buried way down in the marrows of regulatory where NOBODY was affected if I was gone one day extra, or had an unpaid day out of my check. In addition, from unit to unit in the company, such policy was entirely up to the discretion of the manager. It was onerous.

    At my current company, I have less PTO and such, but no harassment, and they demonstrate a willingness to work with me and trust that I love my job and care about my desk and the welare of my constituents.

    Like night and day.

  • rlw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Our medical director/director of research just came in to tell me that my people will be most intensely impacted by the Swine Flu epidemic due to more-communal living conditions, whether urban or rez-located.

    To this I add the following: also more-adversely impacted as a result of lack of adequate health support access; culture-based useage patterns which include non-use of impersonal, unconfidential, clinic-based care settings; lack of funding and expert support to public health clinic (urban indian clinics) as well as IHS-system clinics.

    Also: prison populations will be unduly stressed by this, but doubtless, as with natives, under-reported.

    Jolly. Anyone care?

  • ThreeSlipsAndAGully (unverified)
    (Show?)

    This could be a disaster, without being a disaster. People that are on the periphery of the entertainment industry and live hand to mouth are looking at complete ruin if public gatherings are cancelled for any period of time.

    This isn't like the baseball or hockey strike. Public gatherings- all sporting events- could be suspended world wide. Even a short period like that would be calamitous.

  • Perpugilliam Brown (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Also: prison populations ... as with natives,

    What's the diff?

    • Peri
  • Eric Parker (unverified)
    (Show?)

    " In addition, from unit to unit in the company, such policy was entirely up to the discretion of the manager"

    Which is why we have Unions - Having a union cuts out this kind of crap.

  • rlw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Good point, Peri. Sentiment shared. But I was making a serious public health observation. There is an unspoken business in our prisons -TB is alive and well. So, too, on our reservations.

    And Eric: it sucks being in a right to work state. However, remember that unionized OHSU still has Reagan-era structures that keep the workers divided -- one class of employee has great bennies, another not so great, etc. But some union is better than none, this is utterly so.

  • Andy (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Be prepared is all I say and make sure this virus does not cost you your job.

  • Gina (unverified)
    (Show?)

    What if your employer makes you leave work? My employer made me leave work because my daughter had a fever and cough. Then they said they changed their minds and I could come back the next day. Who pays for my lost wages? Should I have to use my PTO or should they have to pay me for the day since they made me leave. I btw am not ill, no fever, no symptoms. Who covers my 6hrs of lost pay?

  • Byard Pidgeon (unverified)
    (Show?)

    These arguments wouldn't even be happening, if the ever-meddling nanny state federal socialist bureaucrats hadn't outlawed indentured servitude and slavery.

    Well, someone has to put forth the ultimate Republican position!

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
    (Show?)

    There is probably an assumption that most government employees have sick days, but some government agencies rely on part time workers with no benefits such as sick leave. Ten years ago, before I returned to politics after my first campaign, I was working as a relief detention worker for both Linn Benton Juvenile and Oregon Youth Authority, both housed at the Oak Creek juvenile lock up facility in ALbany. Linn Benton initially employed some relief at least 40 hours a week, sometimes more, with the balance carried over to a different week to avoid overtime. In retrospect someone should have filed a complaint with BOLI (I think there was a union complaint that halted the practice), but needless to say, most workers in that position need the extra money and/or are trying to get on full time so choose to not rock the boat. I worked with a bad cold on more than one occasion, but no one complained, as I was likely replacing someone who was sick.

    OYA, which had a lower pay scale combined with much worse guard to juvenile staffing ratios, relied too heavily on relief staff. It was not uncommon to be asked to work double shifts, even graveyard to day. As I was leaving, there was an effort to collect cards to include temp staff in the union. I heard that the solution was to try harder to fill shifts with full time staff who were on their day off. The budget cuts in '03 made it a moot point, as the state closed the five facilities built to accommodate Measure 11 increases. They had reopened most or all of them, but who knows what will come out of this session.

connect with blueoregon