The Scary Reality Of Being Fired For Taking a Sick Day
This post was written by Avital Norman Nathman
A little over a year ago, Annie and Justin Roberts* welcomed their first child – a beautiful baby boy. Only nine months later, Justin was fired from his job, ostensibly because he had taken a sick day at short notice when their son came down with a 101 degree fever. A third shift worker for a local train company in northern Massachusetts for four years, Justin had rarely used a sick day before and deemed his young son’s health an emergency worthwhile of cashing one in. His company did not agree, and Justin soon found himself without a job.
Unfortunately, Justin is not alone. Currently, the state of Massachusetts does not have a working mandatory policy regarding earned paid sick time in places of employment. As a result, many employees must make the decision between potentially losing their job or sending a sick child to school (or going into work sick themselves).
This trend is not specific to Massachusetts. Despite efforts to change it, there is currently no national mandate for paid sick days, leaving 40 million people without access to this crucial employment benefit. Connecticut is the only state in the Union to have passed an earned paid sick leave act, and it only took effect this past January. Washington D.C., as well as the city of San Francisco, have legislation in place, but clearly this is nowhere near enough.
Like Massachusetts, many other states have legislation up for review that would provide employees paid sick leave, ensuring that a situation like the one Justin Roberts faced wouldn’t happen to anyone else. Besides ensuring that employees can take sick time without fear of losing their jobs, the current earned paid sick bill up for consideration in Massachusetts has numerous other benefits. Paid sick leave in Massachusetts would actually lower healthcare costs
But most of all, mandated earned paid sick leave benefits all of us, by keeping the workplace and public healthy by reducing the spread of illness in the workplace and in public. Sandy H.* is a waitress who has worked in the food-service industry in western Massachusetts for over twenty years. The horror stories she has seen and experienced due to workers coming in while sick would make even the most iron-stomached among us squirm.
I have worked in restaurants off and on for over 20 years and not a single one has ever had paid sick leave. Most restaurants will also fire you if you try to call out sick, so consequently, servers work while sick ALL THE TIME. I personally have worked while sweaty with fever, with sore throats that turned out to be strep, etc. I’ve seen servers pick up a plate of food, then put it down to run to the bathroom and vomit, and then return to serve the food. I almost never go out to eat myself because I know that chances are, someone preparing or serving my food is sick. I am always shocked that people don’t realize this!
While it may seem obvious that many are in favor of such legislation – currently 72% of MA voters want paid sick leave! – there are those who have attempted to explain how detrimental it could be to small businesses that may not be able to afford it. Yet, some larger businesses seem to be balking over paid sick leave, instead, including the chain Dunkin Donuts. The company gives sick employees the “choice” to either come into work or stay home and lose a day’s pay, facing the possibility of losing their job entirely if it turns into a multi-day illness.
Dean Cycon, owner of an Orange, MA coffee shop and online business understands that taking care of his employees is simply good business practice, and challenges Dunkin Donuts to do the same. “Dean’s Beans only has 10 employees, but for over a decade we’ve had earned sick time. We’re surviving, we’re thriving. If Dean’s Beans can do it, Dunkin’ Donuts can do it.”
For some, earned paid sick time truly will mean that somebody in the state will not lose their job because they are too sick to work or need to stay home with a sick child. To find out more about this important legislation, please visit the Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Coalition. To learn more about what’s happening on the national level, check out the important work being done by MomsRising.
If you are a resident of Massachusetts and want to support the earned paid sick bill, please contact your State Legislators to tell them this legislation is important to you!
E-mail your State Senator
E-mail your State Representative
Call the Massachusetts State House and ask for your Representative and/or Senator: (617) 722-2000
Contact the Governor and tell him this legislation is important to you.
*Names changed at request of individuals.
Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Bitch Magazine, The Guardian UK, CNN.com, Ms. Magazine, Bamboo Family Magazine, The Frisky, and more. You can catch her musing online about motherhood and feminism at her blog, The Mamafesto and on Twitter. Avital’s passion for feminism, reproductive rights, motherhood, and gender equality (and fluidity!) can be found both in her activist lifestyle and body of work.
Photo: anna gutermuth/flickr