Blog | Workplace Health and Safety · Better Pay and Benefits

Can't Miss Work Even if You Have the Flu? You're Not Alone

Chances are everyone around you is sick. Not a pleasant thought, but recent reports show the flu season is one of the worst we've seen in a decade. Check out this Google map to see your risk factors for catching the flu in your state.

While many experts and doctors urge people to stay at home to avoid infecting others, 38% of private-sector workers lack even one paid sick day. This means, many people have to choose between working sick and not being able to pay their rent and utilities. That's a pretty big problem. To make matters worse, many of the workers who don't have paid sick leave are the people cooking and serving our food when we eat out.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, says in the restaurant industry, 90% of workers surveyed say they do not have access to paid sick leave.

And since the minimum wage for tipped workers at restaurants has been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991, many of our nation’s cooks and servers and busers literally can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick. So they come to work with a runny nose or the flu or worse. In 2009, a bartender with swine flu worked for several days at a Washington, D.C., hot spot because he couldn’t afford to not go to work.

Jayaraman added that the federal Healthy Families Act, expected to be re-introduced this year, would "require all businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to 7 days of paid sick leave each year." San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut have already approved such legislation locally.

Raising the bar nationally and ensuring that restaurant workers can stay home when they’re sick will save a lot of money on public health response measures and save a lot of headaches for consumers—not to mention stomachaches as well. The way we treat restaurant workers in America is sickening. So maybe it’s fitting that restaurant workers have no choice but to come to work ill and make us all sick, too.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is using the state of emergency around the flu epidemic in Boston to remind the state legislature that more than 1 million residents do not have paid sick leave. If you're in Massachusetts and want to contact your state representative about a bill for earned paid sick time, click here.

The flu shot is still available at pharmacies all over the United States.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for flu prevention tips.

If you want to learn more about paid sick leave in the United States and the lack thereof, the Center for American Progress has a handy fact sheet.