Sick leave for everyone? by Pat Farr

Paid sick leave

I am going to make some assumptions about the way people operate, based upon the standards I would like to adhere to in my life:

1.            They have a job that they either love or need and they  want to do it the best that it can be done.

2.            They  care about the people they work with, around and for and do not want to cause them discomfort or place them at unnecessary risk.

3.            They  do not like to be ill.

Allowing for days off while sick should be a fundamental part of an employer’s terms of agreement with employees.

Clearly an ill staff member is not going to perform his or her duty in a manner to the standard their peers expect and need, that  their employer feels is needed for the work to be completed at standard, or significantly to the level that customers demand and deserve.

Just as clearly, the risk of infection spreading to the men women and children that an ill person comes into contact with is a risk that should not be taken.  To that same end, Lane County’s Community Health Improvement Plan calls for inoculation and vaccination levels to be increased to produce “herd immunity” and to prevent outbreak of communicable diseases.  Workers who are go to work while ill are directly opposed to the Health Improvement Plan’s basic tenets.

The first option for an ill worker, in order to avoid substandard work or potential wide spread health threat, is to stay home.  For all involved, that  is nearly always the preferred option—whether you are a coworker, employer or customer.

Ignoring these threats leaves a working poor person with a second choice that is not good.  In the case of workers who lose pay while staying home to prevent outbreak, substandard job performance or customer dissatisfaction the choice is untenable:  “Do I lose money from my paycheck or do I expose others to unacceptable risk?”

The choice might seem clear to those among us who do not rely on every penny earned to pay the rent, put gas in the car, buy antihistamines or feed our children.  Take home less pay and sacrifice something that we enjoy, perhaps, or something that is not necessary to meet our basic needs.  Stay home and get better at the same time making sure that we are not causing others we work around to be at risk or be unable to do our job the way we would like to do it.

Those among us who have work that covers our bills have many choices in our lives that we hold dear.  We can buy presents for our loved ones.  We can wear stylish clothing.  We can buy medication that keeps our noses from running.  We can go to the coast or up the river for a day or a weekend.  These are but a few areas we have choices in every day.

But I regularly think about those among us whose paycheck either does not cover the bills or just barely does so without allowing for choices such as an extra cup of coffee, dessert or a mini-vacation—the working poor.  There are thousands of people that you may see daily that suffer far beyond illness if they lose pay by missing work for illness.

I believe that there is an obligation to help the working poor who we live alongside, whose children attend school with our children.  The working poor, we should assume, would like to buy a new pair of shoes for their child, or not face eviction or have their electricity shut off, or want to make sure their kids don’t go through the day hungry during the summer when schools aren’t providing meals.  People who need to have a sense of security that they aren’t going to even further lower their standard of living by missing a day of work.

Employers should be encouraged to find a way to help themselves while fostering a level of security in daily needs that everybody in this country should have.

Immediately, I consider the potential abuse of paid sick leave that becomes possible.  The possibility of people staying home just because they didn’t get enough sleep.  Or staying home because they just don’t feel like working today.

But those risks are present even without paid sick leave.  Those are disciplinary issues that an employer should have a plan to deal with.  That is a symptom of a bad worker issue that becomes part of the standard disciplinary process.

I think about people who have worked for me and how well I have always wanted to care for them, by offering benefits beyond a paycheck.  By offering a productive and supportive work environment.  I think that I should not be told how to run my business.  Of course I shouldn’t be told how to run my business.  I should be able to operate my business in a way that is sustainable for me, my staff and my customers.

But then I also think that making certain that I am not placing myself at risk, or placing my staff or my customers at risk is the way I want to run my business.  I do not want employees who are sick jeopardizing their own health or others they work with.

That being said, the city of Eugene’s ordinance reaches too far the way it is written.  Relying on administrative rules to cover the stretch beyond the boundaries of the city’s jurisdiction is not a risk that Lane County should assume.  Jurisdictions operating on ever diminishing general fund dollars, using revenue streams produced by taxes, cannot afford for their expenses to be increased by other jurisdictions.  Such increases in expenses, however small, cannot be absorbed and therefore result in a reduction of services.

To that end, the Board of County Commissioners have a duty to protect and preserve its resources and cannot rely on speculative administrative rules of another jurisdiction for assurance.



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