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Flu season is approaching, and the Center for Disease Control’s advice is simple: Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, and while sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
But what happens if staying home means you don’t get paid — or worse, you lose your job?
About 40 percent of American workers don’t have paid sick leave. The bulk of employees without sick leave work in the food service and child care industries.
But there is a growing trend of cities taking up legislation to require paid sick days. Jersey City, N.J., just passed a law requiring businesses with 10 or more employees to provide paid sick leave, and Newark will take up similar legislation next week.
Two business owners take different sides
Steve Yglesias, owner of Mompou Tapas Bar in Newark, is against the legislation, but only because it is too much of a financial burden at this time.
“We just went through seven years of a horrible economy, and on top of everything else … we had Sandy,” Yglesias told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “From a compassionate level, as a small business owner, I think it is necessary to have paid sick leave for your employees. It’s a wonderful idea … I just think the timing is a little off.”
Justyna Stachowicz, owner of Art Kitchen in Newark, disagrees. She supports the legislation from a public health point of view.
“I think you’re saving money doing this, because what if the person comes, and makes other people sick?” Stachowicz said. “It’s just healthier for everyone to do something like this.”
Studies show costs and savings
Policy analyst and columnist Martha Burk, who has written about paid sick leave for Ms. magazine, agrees with Stachowicz’s assessment.
“I don’t think that we can get across the fiscal argument to people, but people do react to the health argument,” Burk said.
She cites a 2009 study by the CDC that found 7 million additional people contracted the flu from a co-worker who came to work while sick.
Another CDC study found that 12 percent of food service workers came to work even when they were sick with symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.
Burk says about 40 percent of private sector workers — 40 million people — do not have paid sick leave.
A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that offering sick leave to food service workers would cost a business an addition 19 cents per hour.
Cities lead the charge
Burk notes an interesting trend in legislating paid sick leave: individual cities, such as San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland, Oregon and New York City, have taken up the charge.
A number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have preempted this trend, Burk says, barring individual cities from passing sick leave laws.
On the federal level, Burk calls Congress’s lack of action on paid sick leave “pathetic.”
“It’s been introduced in every Congress since 2005,” Burk said. “It’s never even gotten out of committee. It’s never even gotten to the floor for a debate.”