One of my biggest pet peeves is when people come to work when they're sick. This is partly due to the fact that I caught bronchitis from a sick colleague when I was in my late 20s. I was sick in bed (at home!) for a week after that. I coughed so much that my back and stomach muscles ached. As unpleasant as that experience was back then, if this happened to me now, with a child, husband, dog, and house to take care of, I would not be able to cope, and my family life would suffer tremendously. If you're sick, STAY HOME. Coming to work sick only extends your recovery period, and exposes your colleagues to your sicky germs.
Now, I say all this from the comfortable position of a professional woman who has never not had paid sick time. From my very first job out of college, I've always known that I could stay home to heal and recover, without having to worry about losing my job or losing a day's pay. But what about those workers who do not get paid sick time? There are more of them than you think. Reliable numbers are tough to come by, but suffice it to say that paid sick time is not mandated in the US. The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid leave for serious illness (or to care for a family member, or for childbirth or adoption), and even that ("you can stay home sick, you just won't get paid while you're out") applies to only a little over half of US workers1. Do you really want the barista at your neighborhood cafe to be sneezing into your latte, because if she stays home sick she won't get paid, and if she doesn't get paid she can't buy rent/food/medicine/tuition? I don't think so.
Look, I worked in business for 18 years. I know that it's hard for businesses, especially small businesses, to pay an employee when he or she is out sick, and then to have to pay someone else to cover for the sick person. But it's the right thing to do. And, okay, if you're a business manager who doesn't necessarily believe that you should do something just because it's the right thing to do, then consider this:
• Providing employees with paid sick time shows them that you care about them as people, not just as workers, and can increase their feelings of loyalty, and thus reduce "turnover" (i.e. when someone leaves a job). I mean, wouldn't you rather work for a company that cares about you as a person, and doesn't see you as merely a machine in their factory?
• The cost of paying sick leave can be less than the cost of replacing an employee (advertising, interviewing, training, etc.). In the big picture, paying for sick leave can be good for your bottom line. 2
• Encouraging employees to stay home when they're sick (by continuing to pay them while they're out) can help create an agile workforce. Maybe your staff of 10 has to operate as a team of 9 for a day. Maybe they'll figure out how to do it, and you'll all learn something about your team. Then again, maybe what you'll learn is that you really do need to have 10 people there every day. So maybe you'll figure out a way to have a sub list -- a list of people who can fill in on occasion for a sick employee. Hey, if public schools can do it, I have no doubt that you can too.
Yes, paid sick leave should be mandated by our governmental leaders -- sometimes, employers have to be nudged (required) to do the right thing. Organizations like MotherWoman work hard to advocate for policies that help mothers and families, and therefore help all people. But just because it's not mandated (yet) doesn't mean employers can't do it anyway. Because it's the right thing to do.
Please consider supporting MotherWoman through its 'Advocating for Mothers' Campaign.
Author's Bio: Jennifer Shiao Page had a successful 18-year career as a data analyst in the corporate world, when she decided to re-focus her career with an organization that is mission-based, as opposed to profit-based. Now, as an instructional designer with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Continuing & Professional Education, she helps faculty to develop and deliver online courses. As a mother, one of Jennifer's many goals is to teach her daughter to be empowered and resilient. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking from scratch, reading novels, and knitting. Jennifer lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and daughter.