Whether to require employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees is becoming a central issue in the coming elections for New York City mayor and among city council following three years of debate. The election pits longtime Mayor Michael Bloomberg against City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and numerous other candidates for the city’s top spot.
Both of the candidates said they support sick leave to avoid having ill employees — including those serving food at local restaurants — going into work sick and subsequently infecting others with whatever ails them. They don’t, however, agree on whether sick leave should be mandatory. It is estimated that more than 1/3 of civilian employees do not receive sick pay benefits from their employers, according to an Associated Press report, so they are forced to make a decision between protecting their health and protecting their finances.
Brewer’s proposal would require businesses with at least five employees to provide up to five paid sick days per year. That notion might have higher appeal now in the midst of flu season, which has been declared an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control. The flu hit a month earlier than usual this year, according to Midge Ransom, director of the Franklin County Health Department, and has been accompanied by a number of other medical maladies, including bronchitis, strep throats, gastrointestinal issues and more.
Though Ottawa doesn’t have a requirement for paid sick time, four other U.S. locales do: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut.
The lack of paid sick leave is a significant issue, Ransom said, because staying home is one of the primary ways to prevent the spread of disease. Most flu is spread by kids, so if parents aren’t allowed by employers to stay home with their sick kids, there is an increased risk of the flu and other illnesses being spread to adults.
It isn’t too late to get a flu shot — they are just $29 at the county’s health department at the Franklin County Office Annex, 1418 S. Main St. — but the best way to avoid the flu is for people to wash their hands with soap frequently and vigorously. Hand sanitizer is good, but doesn’t accomplish the same thing as hand washing, Ransom said.
“[The flu] is nasty this year,” Ransom said.
If employers voluntarily avoid having workers come in when either they or their children are sick, then the odds of infecting a company’s entire workforce with the flu and other ailments will be reduced.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher