Make us your home page
Instagram
Jobs | Benefits

Swine flu magnifies lack of sick leave options

Workers struggling to make ends meet might go to work if they have the swine flu if paid time off isn’t available.

Jupiterimages

Workers struggling to make ends meet might go to work if they have the swine flu if paid time off isn’t available.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Consider these scenarios as the nation enters the second wave of the swine flu season this fall:

• You feel feverish and start sneezing, but you're afraid of losing your job so you stay at work.

• Your child has the swine flu and will be out of school for at least a week — more if there are complications. You only have three vacation days left for the year.

• Your child's healthy, but his school shuts down after swine flu cases are cited. You need to be at work.

These workplace situations could be all too real for employees. And when it comes to sick leave, many workers have few options.

In Florida, about 3.3 million residents, or half of private-sector workers, are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

There is little legal protection for employees from being fired if they contract swine flu, lawyers say. Florida is an at-will state, meaning employers have the right to fire employees without contract or union protection.

Workers who are ill for longer than their vacation and sick days allow can sometimes take short-term disability, which pays a portion of salary, but not all employers offer it as a benefit.

Employees who have swine flu complications or who need to care for a sick family member could qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if they work for a company with 50 or more employees, says Maxine Neuhauser, a partner with Epstein Becker & Green law firm. But that leave is generally unpaid.

Because there are few protections, experts say employers need to offer paid sick days to discourage flu-infected workers from coming to work and to be flexible with worker arrangements, such as allowing them to work from home.

"If workers can't make ends meet, it's an incentive for workers to go in when they're sick," says Linda Meric, executive director of 9 to 5, a national association of working women. The organization has proposed federal legislation mandating employers provide up to seven paid sick days.

The federal government is urging employers to allow ill workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs and to be flexible when workers' children are affected because of the flu or school being closed. But few employers are prepared for a pandemic.

"If this comes in a wave dealing with mass absences, it's a whole different program," says Nina Stillman, partner with Morgan Lewis law firm, who is recommending employers abandon previous policies that penalize workers for multiple absences.

Swine flu magnifies lack of sick leave options 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Sun Sentinel.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?

    National

    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  2. Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?

    Health

    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting Zika. Cases of the virus are down dramatically in Florida.
  3. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again

    Cooking

    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.
  5. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]