Why you should care about paid sick leave
If you're about to eat in a restaurant, you should read this first.
Or then again, maybe you'd rather not.
A report being released at a Congressional hearing later this morning by the D.C.-based Restaurant Opportunities Centers United ("a national restaurant workers' organization, comprised of restaurant worker organizations across the country," according to its Web site) says, among other key findings from its survey of more than 4,000 restaurant workers nationwide, that "nearly 90% of workers said they did not receive paid sick days. As a result, two thirds of respondents said they had worked while sick in the previous year, preparing, cooking and serving food."
The restaurant workers' organization is one of many advocates across the country pushing for passage of the Healthy Families Act, whose provisions include requiring employers to provide sick leave. A poll released this summer showed that most Americans favor such a law.
In 2008, the District of Columbia became the second U.S. city (after San Francisco) to pass a law requiring most employers to provide paid leave that workers can use to attend to their own or a family member's illness.
Business owners balk at blanket legislation dictating the kind of leave they offer and to whom. In New York City, proposed legislation has met with opposition from proprietors who say the expense associated with the law would force them to move their businesses out of the city.
Today's report features case histories of low-wage workers who tell of times they've reported to work while ill. Here are some excerpts:
"Sick time? I take my own sick time, if I'm very sick I don't go. But many times you can't afford to take the day off because you're sick, and all the time, especially this season and in the spring, a lot of my coworkers they were sick, sneezing in the food. They were disgusting. But you know, what can they do? They cannot afford to take the day off." - Female, Maine, 4 years in the industry, Server
"There [are] times when I call in and tell them I'm sick and they still say 'you can't come in for a few hours?' They don't care! You gonna be sneezing, over people's food and stuff like that and if you wanna put a mask on or try to cover yourself up or whatever then it's bad for the business. That's why you should have allowed me to stay home. I told y'all I was sick! That's how it is right now [though]; they just don't care." - Female, New Orleans, 23 years in the industry, Server
"The concept does not exist: there is no sick time, you come to work either way. If you don't come you don't get paid and if you stay off too long you get fired, that's it, even if you've been there for two years." - Male, Michigan, 5 years in the industry, Line Cook
Obvious issues of humanity aside, I'm not generally in favor of slapping extra burdens on small and mid-sized businesses, especially in today's economy. On the other hand, I'm not thrilled at the idea of having someone sneeze in my soup.
With cold and flu season nigh upon us, it's a good time to be thinking about the impact sick workers -- in restaurants and elsewhere -- might have on all of us. But even if this report's release and the attendant publicity helps get the federal law passed, it won't go in effect soon enough to allow sick workers this season to stay home and recuperate without losing their day's wages.
I don't know about you, but I've suddenly lost my appetite.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| September 30, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: General Health, Health Policy, Infectious Disease, Influenza, The Business of Health, Workplace health
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Posted by: bpartoens | September 30, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse