Workers in US can ill afford sick leave

09:39, November 04, 2009      

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For millions of Americans the rule is simple: If you don't come to work, you don't get paid.

That idea drives an untold numbers of carpenters, day care workers, servers, shopkeepers and small-business owners to their jobs each day. Sniffles or not.

As the H1N1 flu spreads across the US - and public health officials plead with the ill to, stay home in bed for several days until the fever goes away - a large segment of the American workforce will face a tough choice about whether to call in sick or simply muddle through. That's because when skipping work means skipping food on the table or missing a rent payment, staying in bed isn't as simple as it sounds.

Kara Knoche, 28, is worried about getting H1N1 flu and the money she would lose by missing a week of work. The waitress is downing Vitamin C supplements, going out of her way to eat immune system-boosting foods and avoiding friends with the sniffles or hacking coughs.

"If you don't save up, you're basically behind and you're broke. Every dollar you make after that is probably going to go to bills," she said. "That makes for a very hard month. A person has to eat."

Across the US, employers are making contingency plans for a hard-hitting flu season.

Some business owners are cross-training employees to fill in for absent colleagues. Others are relaxing sick leave policies that require a doctor's note. Many doctors' offices are advising H1N1 patients to stay away unless their symptoms are severe to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.

Some corporations are heeding advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among their tips: moving desks farther apart, creating more shifts to have fewer people on duty at a time and reducing employee travel.

But that advice doesn't do much for many companies - particularly small businesses or those in the service industry where sick leave is almost unheard of or too costly for owners to afford.

"We don't have a real good contingency plan in place right now," said Gordon Weitzel, owner of Dayton's Chicken & Seafood in Salisbury, Maryland. His staff of 36 does not have sick leave.

"I've got some servers who cook, and I've got a lot of different people I can flip-flop. But it most certainly would be a hardship if 20 or 25 percent of my staff had swine flu" and stayed home, he said.

Source:China Daily
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