Will we ever learn?

The recent spread of swine flu may be a good thing. Stubborn as Americans are, sometimes it takes an epidemic for us to realize how important good habits are. Like washing your hands properly. Like covering your mouth when you cough. These things used to be polite and a marker of someone fit for going out in high society.

Maybe also it will help us remember why we have sick days. Yes, they make taking care of yourself a whole lot easier. You don’t have to be sick AND worry about how you are going to make the next rent check. And, yes, they are the right thing for a beneficent and caring boss to do. Show a little compassion for the poor wretch who normally puts up with being your employee, when they most need it.

But, it was also good social policy. If sick people didn’t feel pressured into coming to work (because they need the money, because they fear losing their job, or because the organization is so light on staff that your job responsibility it just that, your responsibility), then they might stay home when they are sick and get better sooner. And if sick people stay home when they are sick, fewer of the rest of us get sick.

Get it? Sick leave isn’t just a personal benefit, it is a social good. We all benefit when we structure the workplace to take care of one another, when we treat one another like human beings.

We all should get sick leave, regardless of how long we have worked at a particular location, regardless of how many vacation days we are allowed and have used, and regardless of whether we work for an hourly wage or annual salary.

Perhaps those bosses who make it nigh on impossible to take a day off when sick could be held responsible for their actions? Would it be possible to hold them liable for any employees who pass on their illness to other employees or customers? After all, some employer groups seem to think they control the workplace and everything that is allowed (or not allowed, in the case of union organizaing) on their property.

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