If you’ve been reading the news the past few days, you know that this year’s vicious cold and flu season is drawing a lot of attention to the issue of paid sick leave (or lack thereof) in the United States.
It is estimated that 80% of full-time employees get paid sick days, while only 25% of part-time employees do. (Note: These numbers do not include those who are self-employed or work entirely on commission.) When all is said and done, it is estimated that approximately 1/3 of American workers are not given any paid sick days.
But perhaps the most disturbing statistic is the one that says 79% of food service workers don’t get any paid sick days. In other words, it is quite likely that the food and drinks you order at any given restaurant during flu season have been touched by at least one person who is sick but can’t afford to take time off without pay. Euw.
Why do employers discourage employees from taking sick days? One reason is fear that employees will “abuse the system” and pretend to be sick when they’re really on vacation. The other reason is that some employers honestly think they can’t afford it – either financially or in terms of productivity. With so many companies downsizing over the years and “doing more with less,” it’s not surprising that they may not have enough employees to cover for someone when he/she is out.
So what’s the solution? Some are calling for local governments to start mandating that all employers offer a certain number of paid sick days per year. It’s not unheard of; after all, such a policy already exists in most other countries. If passed, a sick pay mandate could be a huge relief to anyone who has had to sacrifice their health – or their children’s health – for work.
Still, I have to wonder… If an employer refuses to offer even one paid sick day per year without a government mandate, how will they treat their employees after they’re forced to do so? Could they retaliate by cutting hours, wages, or other benefits? Or will they just guilt their employees out of using sick days in some other way, like setting strict deadlines or threatening termination?
(Keep in mind, “at will” employees can still be fired for any reason.)
What are your thoughts?