OUR VIEW: Sick leave can help everyone

OUR VIEW: Sick leave can help everyone

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One of our most prevalent health crises is also one of the easiest to fix. The problem is, we can’t.

Employees working sick costs businesses billions of dollars each year. But employees often have to go to work.

Not necessarily because their place of employment can’t survive a worker missing a shift. But a worker missing a shift? For many, besides the lost income (which can snowball into additional difficulties), their very employment might be threatened.

How so? Employees without sick leave have little leverage. If a business is victimized by missed shifts, that can lead to unserved and dissatisfied customers. Missing shifts, for whatever reason, could potentially lead to termination. Bosses ask themselves why they would continue to carry an unreliable employee. Bosses also aren’t likely to overfill positions, even if the turnover is consistently high.

The employees, meanwhile, have taken the job as a source of income. But part-time employees and others who do not acquire sick leave have to be present at the job in order to get their pay. They can be pressured by bosses to show up, or find their work reduced or eliminated. Low-level workers have limited protection for their employment.

As we would expect, the idea of “Don’t come into work if you’re sick” is a foreign concept to those workers.

There’s a name for coming to work sick – “presenteeism.” The people who practice presenteeism aren’t people who want to do anything wrong. Often, they’re focused on the greater good. They don’t want someone to have to add another workload to their already over-burgeoned pile.

There are obviously flaws in the process of both presenteeists and those whose finances force them to come in sick. Neither situation is good for the sick person at work or the people that surround them.

So we can in good conscience say to those with the most secure positions, which include sick leave, please stay home. With rest might come a quicker recovery, and less workplace circulation of whatever virus has landed. You have those sick days for a reason. Use them. Don’t give the awful gift of flu or a cold to your co-workers.

For those with a less secure workplace, we’re long past time for some kind of help. We ask employers to not be vindictive. If you can’t pay for sick leave, don’t punish someone for needing it by dismissing them from their job. If you have enough competent backup and can call in a sub, maybe your sick employee can return the favor some day down the road.

But going to work while ill to protect your job is just a sick strategy.


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