I Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription is Some Time Off

You get sick and you’re not able to work. It’s not your fault. It’s not your intention to disrupt your employer’s business. Yet that is how many employers, as well as legislators, treat the concept of paid sick days – by blaming you for getting sick.

The paid sick days’ fights going on in states like Florida, Georgia, Colorado, and Massachusetts show that workers and their community allies have had enough.  With over three-quarters of adults supporting paid sick days, the message to employers and politicians is clear: paid sick days now!

The problem with not having paid sick days extends far beyond economics, which recent research has shown is only improved by granting paid sick days. It’s a question of whether employers and legislatures are willing to give workers respect and dignity.

The paid sick days fight is another example of the personal being political. It’s quite political when new parents can’t take time off in order to care for their new child during its most forming months. It’s quite political when a worker can’t take paid time off work in order to care for their parent, partner, or elder who’s deftly ill. And it’s quite political when workers can’t even get a paid day off to nurse their flu or cold.

It is a clear message from employers and policy makers that, “We want your labor, but we don’t respect you enough to give you time off every now and then to recover from illness.” It’s just fundamentally not right. It even goes beyond that when race and gender are factors. For example, over a third of all women won’t be able to take paid sick days when a family member is ill, and half of all Latino workers have no access to paid sick days.

It can get even messier when one examines particular professions, such as domestic workers. Since domestic workers are “contingent” contract workers , bargaining can be more difficult, and getting basic things like sick leave is an even bigger challenge.

In 2010, New York took a step in the right direction with the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, however they still are not able to get paid sick leave. A paid sick leave provision was also struck down in theCalifornia Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which is poised to be passed this year. The one difference is that California has some sick days protection in the form of insurance funds that employees pay into for paid family leave. How effective that will be with domestic workers? That remains to be seen.

The ultimate solution of course would be a federal mandate for paid sick leave and paid time off. Currently, one of employers’ favorite ways of cutting costs is to give unpaid time off (and state and the federal governments have done this).

There needs to be an enforceable policy in place that says “Workers deserve time off when they get sick, and they deserved to get paid for that time off.” We also must not only make the logical economic argument (that healthier workers mean a better economy), but we must push that workers are human, and they deserve respect and dignity. Enacting a Paid Sick Days Law would be another step in ensuring that workers are treated with the respect and dignity that they so dearly deserve.

Originally Posted on the Jobs with Justice Blog, JWJ.org, on August 23, 2012

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