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Study's results are sickening

November 10, 2010 - Mary Ann Heath
With serious illnesses like H1N1 going around these days, one would like to take comfort in knowing that sick people stay home.

But as the results of one recent study reveal, that is not the case.

More alarming, the industry where at least two-thirds of those surveyed said they go to work sick? Food service.

Makes you think twice about where you dine, doesn’t it? Although, according to a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United — a national organization that represents and supports restaurant workers — that could be anywhere.

Kind of makes you miss the days when mom could just scribble you a note, or call in for you.

Staying home sick is imperative to stop the spread of illness. Unfortunately, many people don’t stay home for one reason or another. Around 90 percent of food industry workers taking the survey, for example, said they do not receive paid sick days, and 60 percent said they have no health insurance.

Many workers are dragging themselves to work sick because they need the money and cannot afford to stay home. Unfortunately, this poses a health risk to diners consuming food prepared by sick workers — workers that may have been coughing or sneezing on the entrees.

Food service workers are not alone, 55 percent of workers in the retail industry and 48 percent in the general private sector also don’t get paid sick days. What kind of a price tag can you put on the health and wellbeing of the general public?

Spreading illness isn’t just health issue — in some cases it can be a life or death issue. Many at-risk individuals — the elderly, infants, people with existing health conditions — cannot afford to get sick.

In 2007, 1,637 Michigan residents died from influenza and pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data also shows that in 2009-10, 282 flu-associated pediatric deaths occurred in the U.S. Now that’s pretty sad.

Although it is somewhat understandable for those wanting to earn a pay to haul themselves to work sick, what about those who go for other reasons: staying home sick is “wimpy,” or those who don’t want their workloads falling on someone else’s shoulders? You just have to look at it another way. Spreading illness unneccessarily is inconsiderate and potentially dangerous. I’d say contaminating everyone around you is a lot weaker than staying home where you belong.

As for workloads, (I vow to heed my own advice) I’d say co-workers would probably rather pick up a little slack versus coming down with a nasty virus. In the long run, spreading illness around the office could harm overall productivity, as well, because sick employees are bound to be more lethargic, and possibly careless.

Lastly, some may wonder whether paid sick time is good idea, say for those that call in when they aren’t really sick. A valid point. You would have to weigh the options. Workers crawling to work sick and contaminating other workers has the potential to cost a company a lot, too. It harms production, and in some cases it could ruin a company’s reputation. Would you want to eat in a restaurant where most of the workers are sick? Would you shop, or visit a business with sick employees?

The next time you get ill, consider staying home. Parading around sick won’t help anyone in the long run. If you must work, make sure you take vigilant steps to prevent spreading illness (tips can be found on the CDC’s Web site).


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