How often do we drag ourselves to work when we're too sick to be in public? And how much work do we really get done when we go? People are "pretty committed...

Share story

WASHINGTON — How often do we drag ourselves to work when we’re too sick to be in public? And how much work do we really get done when we go?


People are “pretty committed to coming in and working. I remind them a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich,” said Llelwyn Grant, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But apparently many of us feel like we need to be a hero.


“Often, we encourage workers to stay at home because a lot of times they’re contagious even before they’re showing symptoms,” Grant said.


“One day before the symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick, they could pass the virus to other staff members.”


But the truth is, we come to work sick. We make our co-workers sick, who then make their kids sick, who then make their classmates sick, who make their parents sick.


Almost 50 percent of employees at private companies in the United States have no paid sick days and don’t have the option of staying home.


Even if they wanted to take time off when they or their child had the flu, they would lose that pay or potentially their job.


Most people without paid time off work in the service industry or in low-wage jobs, according to Jean Flatley McGuire, a visiting professor at the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern University. That means the people who make the food and serve the coffee are forced to work even when they are infectious. Nice image, yes?


Some lawmakers have introduced legislation that would provide seven days of paid sick leave a year for all workers. It was met with disdain from some employers who feel it’s another burden on business.


“We have a problem in our cultural norm today that to be considered a good worker, you have to show up all the time. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s harmful,” said Chai Feldblum, a law professor at Georgetown University and director of Workplace Flexibility 2010, a research organization that aims to develop a national policy on workplace flexibility.


Feldblum argues that workplaces should allow more flexibility.


“This is the moment in history for that shift to occur,” Feldblum said. That’s because “there used to be this thing called wives who stayed home. That’s how people could volunteer in the community and take care of kids and not miss work.”


But with more gender equality in the workplace, we need to take another step: make it acceptable for both men and women to take time off from work to deal with child care or a sick family member, or to do a bit of community volunteering. And make it not only acceptable, but allow ourselves to realize that those who take off the time they need are still good workers.


Maybe then we will start to consider taking a day to recover.