If you're sick, stay home. That's not just commonsense, it's advice public health officials dealing with Swine Flu and other infectious diseases give everyday. But for half the people reading this column, staying home might not be an option.
A shocking new report released last Thursday by the Community Service Society and A Better Balance shows that nearly half of all working New Yorkers (as many as 1.85 million people) - have no paid sick leave on the job. At least 1.3 million New Yorkers have no paid time off whatsoever (no vacation, no personal days).
For them, every cold or flu means having to choose between losing out on the paycheck they need to get by, or putting their health at risk (not to mention the health of their co-workers).
What's worse, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. According to the report, 69% of "near-poor" workers - those earning just above the federal poverty line - had paid sick days in 2004. Today, just 33% of near-poor workers report being able to take a paid day off work when they get sick.
Finding a job in this recession is tough enough. Sick in the City shows that finding one that offers decent benefits is a lot harder.
What's life like without paid sick days? Just ask Guillermo Barrero. A father of two, Barrero was fired from his job as a cook at a restaurant in Bushwick after feeling ill for days and telling his boss he needed to go to the hospital. According to his account in the Daily News, his boss told him:
"You don't care about your job - if you leave now, don't come back," ... Barrero left work and spent three days in the hospital.
Guillermo's story might be especially bad, but ever since the Working Families Party joined with a growing coalition fighting to make paid sick days a citywide workplace standard, we've heard from hundreds of people who've been disciplined or fired for getting sick, got behind on their bills after an illness, or agonized over sending a sick child to school because they couldn't afford to stay home.
Sick in the City also suggests that the lack of paid sick days may even contribute to our broken healthcare system. Nearly a quarter of those without paid sick days reported going to the emergency room because they couldn't afford to take time off for a doctor's appointment-including those who had health insurance.
No one should have to worry that they cannot afford to get sick. But the Sick in the City report shows that in today's economy, life without paid sick days is an epidemic.