Over the summer one of our guest bloggers — now I’m blanking on who, and of course I can’t get to Feministe Major — wrote about the lack of paid sick days at her workplace. She made the point that the lack of paid sick days is bad for all employees, because people who have to work when they’re sick end up getting other people sick. The issue is finally getting some attention now that H1N1 is upon us. And it’s interesting to hear business interests justify the lack of paid sick days:
Many worker groups and women’s groups have seized on the H1N1 pandemic to argue that Congress should enact legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. San Francisco and Washington have enacted such legislation, but similar measures face obstacles in Congress.
“Sometimes you talk about legislation in the abstract, but this is making people begin to understand the problem,” said Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and lead sponsor in the House of a bill, with more than 100 co-sponsors, that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven paid sick days a year.
Business groups oppose such legislation, calling it expensive and unnecessary. They say that employers already allow and even encourage sick employees to stay home.
“The vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “The problem is not nearly as great as some people say. Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”
So, you know, employers work it out with employees on their own. Nothing to see here. And apparently the term “vast majority” is up for redefinition:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 percent of private-sector workers do not receive paid sick leave.
Predictably, WalMart is an illustrative example of everything wrong with the country:
Workers at many retailers and restaurants say their employers’ policies discourage them from calling in sick. At Wal-Mart, when employees miss one or more days because of illness or other reasons, they generally get a demerit point. Once employees obtain four points over a six-month period, they begin receiving warnings that can lead to dismissal.
In addition, when Wal-Mart employees call in sick, their first day off is not a paid sick day (although workers can use a vacation day or personal day), but the second and third days are paid. The policy is meant to keep workers who are not actually sick from taking a day off to, say, go fishing.
Clearly, this is one area where the private sector needs to be checked to make sure that their policies are at least humane. It’s a shame that it takes a “pandemic” scare to get people to think about it.