Lack of Paid Sick Days Could Help Spread of H1N1

By Matthew Harwood

Nearly 40 percent of workers do not receive paid sick days from their employers, raising fears among public health experts that sick workers will spread swine flu to their colleagues and the broader public if they work in the service economy.

According to The New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, many poor workers have a difficult decision: risk their financial security or jeopardize the health of those around them.

Public health experts say policies like these encourage many people with H1N1, commonly called swine flu, to report to work despite official warnings from the government and most companies that they should stay home.

“For people who are really caught on a weekly income, if they can’t make a go of it, they might say, ‘I’m desperate. I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’m going into work even though I’m sick,’” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at Harvard.

He warned that this might spread disease, and that these financially squeezed workers might send their flu-stricken children to school, infecting others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that businesses develop flexible leave policies that allow workers to care for sick family members or stay home with kids if schools close. The CDC, however, does not elaborate or provide best practices on what flexible leave policies constitute in their H1N1 guidance for businesses and employers.

With swine flu widespread in 48 states, there is a movement at the federal level to pass legislation that requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave. The bill was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and has 113 cosponsors at the moment. It currently sits in the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

“Providing workers with paid sick days is essential if we’re going to get serious about the public health recommendations for swine flu — stay home until 24 hours after your fever is broken," Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told the Times. "That usually takes about five days.”

♦ Photo by foshydog/Flickr


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