Working Sick

bird-flu-mask New Orleans Interesting piece in the Times today by Steven Greenhouse pointing out the obvious:  our national inability to provide paid sick days jeopardizes the health of our entire population and puts American citizens at risk of pandemics.

Corporate America seems to be tripping over its communications message everywhere they turn.  They don’t want dilute business by telling the public the truth, which is that they are de facto forcing employees to come to work – and spread H1N1, but they sure as shoot don’t want to pay them to stay home the up to 5 days experts estimate it takes to recover.

One quote Greenhouse reported was a classic in double speak:

“This is a very difficult issue for companies,” said Nina G. Stillman, a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who advises companies on sick-leave policy. “Employers who do not offer sick days are not prepared to offer them now, and they recognize that this may result in not achieving what they say they would like, which is that people who are sick stay home.”

Hmmm….yes, Ms. Stillman, exactly, I guess.  Companies will not move to begin paying for sick days on their own, but they still want to be able to pretend that they have policies telling people formally to stay home, even though they know they are at work.  I think I’ve got.

With more than 40% of the workers – and I bet really more than that – without paid sick days and at the whim of employers, work itself is going to be a breeding ground for any epidemic.  The notion that either the government or private businesses are really going to step up during the Great Recession and come up with a program to pay people to get well, even if that is way more cost effective in the long run, is unimaginable right this minute.

Unless that is our public health system lost this fight against the so-called “swine” flu and what none of us can imagine, actually happened, and there was an even more severe epidemic (since I believe this situation has already been declared an epidemic already!).  Then we have a “9/11” moment where we realize that for all of our arguing about paid sick days and real health care protection, the price of not having a public safety nets that guarantee citizen security and citizen wealth is countless deaths and immeasurable lost work days and business income as people hunker down in their homes as they did in Mexico City earlier this year.

When will we ever get ahead on the curve before disaster hits.

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