The Trivial Pursuit for Sick Days

Lately, I've been a little addicted to this site, whoissick. It's like trivial pursuit for epidemiologists, with little multicolored wedges (symptoms) that fill in a round based on who reports what symptoms (fever, headache, etc...) in a given combination. If you look up your own zip code, you can find out who in your general vicinity has a tummy ache or runny nose.

From: http://whoissick.org/sickness

It's not GoogleEarth enough yet to help you avoid these people unless they willingly provide their exact location, but at the very least, if you're feeling poorly, you can easily find out if what you've got is going around. Cold comfort if your doctor tells you to drink plenty of fluids and get some rest. On the other hand, it is evidence for a skeptical boss: "Oh yeah, it's definitely contagious--look at all the people in Northdale who've got it!"

Some offices are fantastic about employees working from home when they're sick--others are practically glue factories about it. I've noticed it often depends on the industry. Physicians can't/shouldn't work sick and infect their patients. Many teachers come in sick if they can't get a substitute in time.

HR professionals know that allowing employees to take sick days helps the office avoid epidemics of flus, colds, etc...as well as keep up better morale. I knew someone who was poking around the office in between chest x-rays to check up on his pneumonia.

Do we do this to ourselves? This guy seems to think we enjoy working longer hours and taking less vacation and that we're better for it than the Europeans. I blame the Puritans for this delusional sado-masichism.

It seems while family medical leave is fine and dandy, and legally enforceable, paid sick days are not. According a 2004 report, almost half of the private sector or 59 million Americans have no paid sick leave. And even if a firm offers them, employees aren't using the time off.

It's easy to conjure examples of the single mother with a high school degree, working as a greeter at Wal-Mart or in the food service industry--thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich, we know that cautionary tale all too well. Yet, this disparity strikes at the heart of all Americans who thought they were safe becuase they were fortunate enough to go to college and get a white collar job. Even then, you may be afforded no relief if your kids have the chicken pox or your elderly father has regular appointments with his cardiologist.

This isn't ethical and it isn't good business practice, but it's also a tough argument to make when 45 million Americans (many of whom work full-time jobs) are uninsured and employers are dropping health plans like Britney drops her panties. In times like these, it's almost a moot point that we're even talking about expanding paid sick leave.

Yet we should and here's why:

The Urban Institute, recently found that businesses would save about $8 billion a year if they just let people be sick for seven days of the year. The flu can last longer than that and what about doctor's appointments, or a bad experience with fried rice?

Think for a minute what $8 billion could do if the savings weren't stuffed into the pockets of CEOs. Well, heck, it could just about cover the tab for the State Children's Health Insurance Program for one...

But let's get back to actually being sick and what that means to the average employee/patient.

According to the Institute for Women's Research, avoiding office outbreaks of the flu, alone, can save offices more than 2 days of lost productivity and employees would be spared more than $100 in doctor's visits and prescriptions each.

Obviously, those numbers might differ if you don't have health insurance and can't afford to see the doctor or buy the tamiflu.

So whoissick in America? A lot of people. It's really up to us whether we give them the tools to get better. To me, it's all about who's got a piece of the pie.

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