Should sick leave be mandatory?


In an age when some 40% of people have no sick leave at work, there’s a big push to mandate employers to grant it across the country. Yet I think there’s a better solution that doesn’t require a government mandate.

A new way to combat ‘presenteeism’

The latest news is that President Obama has waded into this debate. He’s said there will be a new regulation in effect in 2017 that will require private employers with federal contracts to provide paid sick leave of up to 7 days each year to their contractors.

I believe the situation calls for a common sense approach. Sure, there will always be people who look at a sick leave as other time paid off — a mental health day or they partied too hard the prior night and decide to call out.

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But what about in the event of an epidemic like an extreme flu outbreak or a SARS situation? I believe when an official like the Surgeon General or the CDC declares a pandemic or national medical emergency that employers should then freely grant their employees paid medical leave.

During cold and flu season, I often hear a lot of questions about ‘presenteeism,’ the idea of going into work even when you’re sick. Are you supposed to go to work sick because if you don’t, your boss will frown on you or fire you? People just don’t know what to do. The Wall Street Journal reports that 1 in 5 men call in and lie about being sick to play hooky. Women are more honest, with only about 1 in 7 doing the same.

Back during the swine flu scare, people were going to work sick because they were too worried about being fired or didn’t get paid time off. So if they didn’t go in, they didn’t eat. This is a real dilemma. People either lie to stay out for no good reason or come in while sick and infect other people.

If you have paid sick leave or PTO (paid time off), use it. You are potentially being more loyal to your employer — not less — when you stay home and take the time to get better.

Being the martyr who comes in and spreads germs to show how tough you are is not a good idea. Your work performance may slip and you’ll make mistakes. And you may even get your supervisor or manager sick. Who are they mad at then?

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For more money-saving advice for your wallet, see our Health section.

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