Gina Vaynshteyn
August 05, 2013 1:00 pm

As a daughter of immigrant parents, I have a pretty kick-ass work ethic. Pretty much the second my parents emigrated to America, they started working; my dad got a job with an engineering firm and before my mom started taking computer programming classes, she worked at a Pizza Hut. My parents never took days off – ever. One time, in kindergarten after complaining about my stomach-ache for an hour and having to endure my teacher calling me a “drama queen” and telling me to “settle down,” I threw up in the middle of the hallway. My grandparents had to pick me up from school because both of my parents were at work and had no choice or leeway in the matter.

So, I grew up on that mentality: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, and even if it’s killing me at work, I’ll survive. I’ve gone to work with a broken toe, fever, cough, you name it. I’m not one to call out of work, and I’m totally proud of that. But in some cases, is bearing with it the right thing to do? Even though the economy is slowly medicating itself and getting back on its pre-2008 feet, so many companies, especially smaller ones, have cut back on hiring employees. This leaves less and less people out on the floor and in the office and managing twice as much and working twice as hard as they should. With this kind of system, employees are just not encouraged to take any time off, even when it’s serious. Women, especially, have this “can-do” attitude, because let’s face it. We’re hard workers. We have a wicked pain tolerance, and we don’t like letting our families down.

Women shouldn’t be martyrs. No worker should be; everyone has the right to take time off for their health and still have financial support from their employer. The US has especially dropped the ball on this issue, neglecting the needs of employees and their families. In fact, the US is the only major industrialized nation without a national paid sick-leave policy. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a federation of US unions that represents over 12 million working men and women, and their goal is to spread awareness of this issue and help support labor and families across the country. AFL-CIO focuses on issues from jobs, health care, education, immigration to civil and workplace rights.

Right now, two-fifths of private sector and 81% of low-wage workers don’t even have a single paid sick day. This means that whenever someone with no paid sick leave becomes seriously ill and is scheduled to work, they can either call out of work and not get paid, or they can suffer through the day in order to have a full paycheck. So many women choose the latter, because the conclude staying home to recover is just not an option. This doesn’t just affect the employee, but her children as well. So many sick children are sent to school regardless of their health due to companies not being lenient enough to allow a paid sick day for their employee. Parents without paid sick days are twice as likely to send a child to school sick and five times as likely to take a child or spouse to the emergency room, which is extremely expensive. Not only does this run the risk of getting all the kids at school sick, but the co-workers as well. AFL-CIO is encouraging working women to not only become aware of this issue, but take the initiative themselves and get involved.

Unfortunately, little is being done about this. Instead of giving all employees paid sick days, states such as Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas, and Wisconsin have passed preemptive laws that prevent paid sick leave legislation. 

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have gone to work with a fever, especially since work for me then was at a restaurant. Even though I was always careful, I could have gotten a customer sick. But what if I had no choice? So many women will put their job and their family before themselves, that they will risk it and come to work, even if it means endangering co-workers and customers.

The key element to understand here, is that every company should ethically provide some paid sick time. No one should have to come to work sick, neglect their children’s ailments, and put their health on the line. All of us deserve the luxury to be able to take a day off and take care of ourselves, because it’s better for our health in the long run. According to The Huffington Post, “The Center for American Progress estimate that unhealthy workers cost employers some $160 billion a year in lost productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the annual flue season alone constitutes a $10.5 billion hit to companies in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults,” which means denying employees paid sick leave is ultimately detrimental for business and for the health care system, in general.

Even though it’s physically and psychologically worth it for a woman to take the day off if she’s not feeling well, chances are, she won’t if she doesn’t have paid sick-leave.

If you visit the AFL-CIO site, you will be able to sign a petition in support of paid sick leave legislation, especially if you live in state that doesn’t support it.

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