COVID-19: Businesses… Please… Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home (video)

Today’s video is a throwback to 2016. Jim shot this video of me testifying in front of the Tucson Mayor and City Council about the importance of paid sick leave and staying home when you are sick.

Much to my employees’ surprise when I was program director of the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, I told everyone, “Don’t come to work sick. If you do, I will send you home.” Everybody had paid sick leave. I wanted them to use it to get well. The Helpline was a much healthier place after I gave everyone “permission” to stay home and take care of themselves.

When people come to work sick, they infect customers and co-workers. When people stay home sick, they get better faster and don’t infect everyone else. Just think of how many people a sick fast food worker, cashier, caregiver, bank teller, or customer service person can infect per day. This is how disease spreads throughout the population.

Why post this sick leave video now? Because many employees feel obligated to come to work even when they don’t feel well. Nobody functions properly when they’re sick. The best place for you when you’re sick is in bed. Unfortunately work life has change so much since the great recession, that most people don’t have paid sick leave. If employees don’t come to work, they fear retribution, loss of income, and potentially loss of their job. The gig economy is not kind to workers.

With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) ramping up in the US and many countries, employers must be smart about sick leave. Encourage employees– especially those with sick leave– to stay home if they are sick or if family members are sick and need care. Don’t punish employees for being smart about public health.

I know staying home when you or you child is sick is difficult financially because so many people live in the gig economy and have no paid sick leave.  During the Coronavirus response, something has to be done to tide people over financially so they can stay home even if they don’t have sick leave from their employer. If sick employees stay home, they will get well faster, the rest of us will be protected, and there will be less disruption to families and the economy. Putting money into preventing the spread of the virus a healthier and probably cheaper choice in the long run than letting widespread sickness run rampant in the country–just to protect corporate profits. Perhaps a new TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) could be provided to people who are ill and should stay home… for everyone’s good. Also, everyone who is eligible for AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid system) needs to get enrolled. (Apparently, it’s a long, difficult process. Let’s fix that. Bureaucracy shouldn’t be a barrier to health.)

On Tuesday, Democratic Senators and Representatives heard a brief update regarding the Arizona response to COVID-19 from Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Crist and a Maricopa County Health Department official. There have been two cases of COVID-19 in Maricopa County. More about their comments in a future update. Everything appears to be well-handled by Dr. Crist; there are updates and more information on the ADHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites. There could be workplace and school disruptions. ADHS is encouraging businesses to be flexible with work attendance, sick leave rules, and work-from-home options to control the spread of this highly contagious virus. Also, the regular flu is nothing to sneeze at.

Please take care of yourselves. Wash your hands with soap throughout the day. Use disinfectant wipes to clean often-used surfaces like doorknobs, faucets, shared work spaces, etc. Do the public health fist bump, instead of shaking hands, hugging or kissing as greetings. (I have been doing this since the beginning of session; people appreciate it.) Cough or sneeze into your arm or a hankie. Don’t go to work or to school sick and don’t send your kids to school sick.

The contagion will spread more rapidly if businesses expect sick people to work. To the Chambers of Commerce, you have a role in prevention.

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