Monday, January 31, 2022

Coronavirus Update 1-31-22: Employees should not be choosing between their jobs and working while ill

I return to the office today after a one-week Covid-inducted work-from-home hiatus. I'm fortunate that as a professional I have the ability and flexibility to work from home when needed. Many too many employees, however, do not have that luxury.

Consider, for example, this report from Business Insider, that 63 percent of Red Lobster employees came to work while sick with Covid-19, either because they lacked paid sick leave or because they couldn't find anyone to cover their shifts. 

Worse yet, consider this report from the Los Angeles Times, that Jack in the Box managers actually require employees to work while sick with Covid. According to the complaint Maria Bernal recently filed with her local health department, her manager told her, "Don’t worry, everyone has it, you can still work. Just wear a mask and don’t tell anyone."

Anecdotally, someone I know (who I inadvertently exposed to Covid and who subsequently exhibited symptoms; just call me "Patient X") had to quit his job at local Dunkin' Donuts when his manager would not permit him to call off despite being exposed and symptomatic.

None of this is acceptable. No one should feel compelled to work while sick. Yet, a combination of a lack of paid sick leave, employees living paycheck to paycheck, staffing shortages, and poor management makes this a reality for too many employees.  

The United States of America leads the world in not caring for our sick workers. We remain the only industrialized nation without federal paid leave for employees. Four out of every five workers lack access to paid family leave, while three in five lack access to paid medical leave, and more than one in five do not have access to paid sick leave. While there is a patchwork of state and local paid leave laws, it's not enough. Further, while there is talk of restarting federal paid Covid-19 leave, the details are scarce and it will likely be too little and too late.

So here's my ask—

1/ Congress, let's finally enact real and meaningful paid leave for all employees so that no one has to feel compelled to come to work sick.

2/ Employers, let's stop requiring employees to work while sick. It's not good for the ill employee. It's not good for their co-workers. It's not good for your customers. If you haven't noticed, we're still in the midst of a pandemic caused by a highly contagious airborne virus. Why does anyone think it's a good idea for employees to do anything other than isolate for the required amount of time if they are sick with said highly contagious airborne virus?

As for me, I'm thankful to be back in my office today and grateful that I could work remotely while sick. I feel for anyone who can't do the same.