Battling Illness When You Don’t Have Sick Leave
Providing benefits helps employees. So why does the U.S. lag behind?
Everyone gets sick from time to time, and even a short-term illness can affect our ability to do work. Yet only ten states in the U.S.A. require employers to provide paid sick leave.
There’s a federal law called the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, that provides leave to some workers. However, it’s unpaid and requires documentation from a health care provider. Useful if you need to have a baby, but not for a 3-day case of the sniffles.
This lack of protection can have severe impacts on workers. Workers who don’t have paid sick leave are more likely to be impoverished. They can also end up with higher healthcare expenses, perhaps because they can’t take time off for preventative care.
Several benefits, including vacation time, paid sick days, and paid family leave, are more generous in other developed countries than in the USA. A cancer diagnosis in the U.S. can lead to a lost job and lost health insurance. That isn’t the case in many other countries.
My job does offer paid sick leave, but management was suspicious when a respiratory illness swept through our floor this past winter, and multiple people called out. As if my constant runny nose, sneezing, and hacking cough were made up.
Suddenly, we could no longer use accrued sick time unless we got FMLA approved. I ended up coming to work after being threatened with losing pay, but I couldn't perform at my best when I had to constantly stop to sneeze.
It’s no surprise that allowing sick workers to rest helps them recover faster with less chance of spreading the illness to coworkers.
Still, many employers require workers to jump through hoops, such as requiring a note from a doctor for every sick day taken. These are a waste of time when doctors have to see patients they know they can’t help, and leads to employees spreading germs. In most cases, like a cold or virus, people only need rest, fluids, and over the counter medicine to recover.
Requiring sick notes also indicates a lack of trust from employers. Like many employees, I have skipped the note charade and gone to work sick due to the cost and hassle. This, I suppose, is the outcome employers hope for.
Workers can start demanding laws that provide better protection. In the meantime, companies can offer sick time on their own.
Offering good benefits can be expensive, but they can lead to more satisfied workers who actually miss fewer days, and are more likely to stay.
Still, I know fighting for sick time is easier said than done. I can feel another cold coming on, and I’m packing a little bag of tissues, cough drops, and acetamenophen for work tomorrow.
Will I get a lot accomplished when my voice is hoarse and I feel tired? I don’t know. But I live in the USA, and it’s easier to go in to work sick than deal with being fired.