The Boston Globe - Let Sick Workers Stay Home
AS AREA SCHOOLS continue to close to contain swine flu, the country should consider the wisdom of allowing sick workers to take a few days off without losing their pay or their job. Recently, Senator Edward Kennedy and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced a bill mandating at least seven paid sick days for firms with 15 or more employees. Congress should give this bill priority, not just as a worker benefit, but as a bulwark of public health.
"Stay home," President Obama recently advised workers with flu-like symptoms. Unfortunately, too many can't. Nearly half of private-sector workers and three-quarters of low-wage workers do not receive paid sick days. Too many employees come to the workplace in the highly contagious stages of respiratory or other illnesses, infecting others and hurting businesses. If the rule were in place now, it could help limit the effect of swine flu, but paid sick days will pay dividends year in and year out: Regular flu annually kills about 36,000 Americans.
"Everyone is at risk," Kennedy said in a statement, "when the people who serve our food, clean our offices, and care for our elderly can't take time off and get well."
The bill would let employees take sick days when they, a child, a parent, a spouse, or someone else who is close to them falls ill.
Business groups oppose the bill on several counts, including the pressure that employers are already under because of the recession. But these same groups were no more supportive in past years when the economy was stronger and the sick-day bill made no headway. A paid-sick-day law now would be an investment in the health of the American people and the American economy.