Don’t Sneeze On My Caesar Salad
By Deborah M. Figart
Vick’s, a Proctor and Gamble company, has a popular television ad running during this current cold and flu season. It is about a father ailing from the flu. Looking red-eyed and dabbing at his nose with a tissue, he goes into his young toddler’s room and apologizes that he needs to take a sick day. The ad concludes with a tagline: “Dads don’t take sick days. Dads take NyQuil.” You can see the ad on YouTube. By the way, Vick’s has a similar ad for Moms.
Though meant to be humorous, the NyQuil ads raise a serious issue in America. More than 40 million U.S. workers do not earn paid sick days. Those disproportionately affected are low-wage workers, women workers, and Latino/a workers, especially in the food service industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2014, paid sick leave benefits were offered to 74 percent of full-time workers but only 24 percent of part-time workers. Similarly, 72 percent of employees in medium and large establishments had access to a paid sick leave benefit but only half for those working for small employers did.
San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. require paid sick leave for most workers; a successful ballot initiative in November of 2006 led to enactment of a law. California cities such as Long Beach, San Diego, and Oakland followed suit. Washington, DC passed similar legislation in March 2008. Cities that followed included: Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Eugene, OR; and Philadelphia, PA.
Connecticut was the first U.S. state to enact a law effective July 1, 2011, followed by California and Massachusetts. The California and Massachusetts laws go into effect in July 1, 2015. And the movement for paid sick leave is gaining momentum in New Jersey. Cities that have enacted annual paid sick time include Trenton, Jersey City, Newark, Montclair, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Passaic. This adds 140,000 New Jerseyans to the pool of employees with paid sick days, but leaves 1 million still uncovered.
Many of these state and municipal laws require employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours (5 days) of paid sick leave per year. Some cities include even smaller employers while others cover employers with 50 or more employees (or even larger). The varied laws have limits in other ways, as analyzed by the organization A Better Balance. Most allow sick time to be used to care for a child or another relative. So the mom or dad in the Vick’s NyQuil commercial could actually take a paid sick day from the workplace if they are sick or if their child is sick.
Using arguments akin to opposition to raising the minimum wage, opponents refer to paid sick leave legislation as harmful to employment growth. Unlike the minimum wage, however, that applies to each hour of paid work, sick leave legislation normally covers 40 hours (5 days) of pay per year, or about 2 percent of a full-time employee’s annual hours. So the impact is less, termed “modest” by business surveys, and could be far less if limited to the food service industry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that workers preparing food for others should not handle food until at least 48 hours after symptoms of the Norovirus cease. The State of New Jersey Department of Health provides for dealing with influenza: “Stay home if you are sick.” Workers at the bottom of the labor market cannot afford to stay home if they are sick. Just 5 days of paid sick time would help us all.
I enjoy dining out. I want neither a fast food worker nor a sous chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant to report to work when they are ill. Don’t sneeze on my Caesar’s salad.