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Sick of Sick Time

By Kathryn Mayer
Source: Benefitspro.com

All week, I’ve been hearing hacking and sneezing and various other upsetting noises coming from all different corners of my office.

It’s likely you have, too.

According to a survey of office workers by Staples, nearly 80 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they’re sick. That’s a whopping 20 percent increase just over last year.

And even worse, for those who stay home, more than two-thirds return to work when they’re still contagious, putting coworkers’ health and business productivity at risk.

This isn’t good news: For one, it’s flu season. (If you haven’t heard, that spreads easily and fast.)

It’s a pretty obvious problem we have here, and of course, a pretty obvious solution: Workers who are sick shouldn’t come to work. Period. Instead of getting better, you’ll prolong your recovery and sulk around all day not getting work done while spreading germs to a significant amount of people. And that’s just mean.

Too bad following that solution isn’t all that easy. For the sickly workers, they have a valid excuse to show up: For example, the survey shows nearly half of workers cited concerns about completing work as the reason they don’t stay home sick. And, more than a quarter of respondents come to work to avoid using a sick day, even though a majority of those surveyed indicated their average productivity level while sick was only around 50 percent.

In a struggling economy and competitive job market, workers are less likely to spend their time away from the office even if it’s truly needed. And for PTO workers like myself, if you want to take a vacation, it means you better not get sick. If I caught the flu this year, I’d have to cancel a visit to my parents’ home in Boston. That’s a tough, if not unfair, decision to make.

It’s a two-way street to fix the issue. Employees shouldn’t be coming to work, but employers need to encourage them not to—and that’s not happening in a lot of places. If there really needs to be something done, employers should encourage a telecommuting option so they still work while quarantining themselves (win-win—at least for the employer).

But the main issue is our country’s lack of sick time. The United States is actually the only country that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave. As a result, close to one quarter of adult workers say they’ve been threatened with termination or fired for taking time off for being sick or taking care of a sick family member.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel ill.