Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Record Numbers Coming In Sick

So many Americans are coming into work sick these days that a new word has been coined to describe the phenomenon. That word is "presenteeism", the opposite of "absenteeism" - it's when employees are present when they should actually be absent. Although some researchers suggest that presenteeism is motivated by a sense of self-sacrifice, others believe that workers come in sick because they don't have sick leave and can't afford to lose the money - or the company needs them to work all the time, and they fear getting fired. According to Vicky Powell, head of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, "Some workers think the company is going to fall apart without them. But many simply fear being suspended or fired if they don?t show up."

A recent survey of 1,000 workers found that one third felt pressured to work when they are sick, yet a similar number said they'd caught the flu at work. The cubicle environment, in which few workers have closable offices and hundreds may share the same open workspace, the risk of catching an illness from a sick colleague is greater than ever. 56 percent of employers say presenteeism is a problem, up from 39 percent two years ago. Research conducted at Cornell University indicates that the decline in productivity induced by the presence of sick employees generates about 60 percent of corporate health costs - more than that caused by absenteeism.

But if workers cannot take time off because they don't have sick leave, what can they do? Only half of all American workers get paid sick leave. At the bottom of the wage ladder, less than a quarter get paid sick leave. Only 1 in 7 of restaurant workers get paid sick leave, which makes its absence a public health hazard as well as a workplace nuisance. The lack of paid sick leave affects all temporary workers regardless of income. As an IT consultant paid only for the hours that I work, I have not taken a sick day since 1995.

The clear solution is for more businesses to offer paid sick leave. The city of San Francisco has passed a law to make paid sick leave mandatory, and other cities may soon follow their example. Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. Rose DeLauro are spearheading something called the Healthy Families Act, which will require businesses with more than 15 employees to provide no fewer than seven days of paid sick leave a year. DeLauro says, "It will make a major difference in the lives of working families."

"Sniffling, Sneezing and Turning Cubicles Into Sick Bays" from The New York Times

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