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The Scary Reality Of Being Fired For Taking a Sick Day

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!

Look up your State Legislators

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.

 

Related Stories:

Why Does The US Hate Moms?

Universal Paid Sick Leave Would Save NYC Millions

Paid Sick Leave: A Women’s Issue?

 

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Photo: anna gutermuth/flickr

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87 comments

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4:18PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Absolutely shocking!

I do not have paid sick leave at my job but that is because I am currently temporary.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

So very ridiculous, some companies care only about the bottom line, yet when sick employees spread their germs to other employees and customers it directly impacts business and the bottom line. Too bad that many businesses could care less about people and the quality of life.

7:38PM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

My daughter was very Ill and was threatened with being fired ,if she took any more time off the whole of the next year. How utterly stupid ,telling people when they can be ill.
My daughter went to work until she was almost in a state of collapse. I phoned not only her boss but the head of the company ( who happened to be hurtling down the motorway ,in his sports car). After I made my feelings quite clear to him ,he admitted that he had no intention of sacking her ( or his under workers ) and how it was just an idle threat. I went mad I'm afraid -----risking her health that way ,anyway he was offering the services of a private Dr. by the time we'd finished. He even suggested she have two weeks holiday ,fully paid ,when she'd recovered.
For which company did my daughter work !!!!!!! a leading health provider.

7:38PM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

My daughter was very Ill and was threatened with being fired ,if she took any more time off the whole of the next year. How utterly stupid ,telling people when they can be ill.
My daughter went to work until she was almost in a state of collapse. I phoned not only her boss but the head of the company ( who happened to be hurtling down the motorway ,in his sports car). After I made my feelings quite clear to him ,he admitted that he had no intention of sacking her ( or his under workers ) and how it was just an idle threat. I went mad I'm afraid -----risking her health that way ,anyway he was offering the services of a private Dr. by the time we'd finished. He even suggested she have two weeks holiday ,fully paid ,when she'd recovered.
For which company did my daughter work !!!!!!! a leading health provider.

8:44PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

@Elaine A, unless an employee is represented by a union contract, you can be fired at almost any time for almost any reason. Can you show me any laws in any state which say people cannot be fired for calling in sick?

6:12PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

I'm wondering if "sick day" may be a misnomer in this situation. Many employers don't recognize a difference between "sick days" and "paid days off". When I had my job with benefits, we just had a total "paid time off" that we could use for any reason. In some ways it was good in that you could call in and take a day for your sick child, but in other ways it was bad: As a person with a chronic digestive disorder, I never really had any vacation time because I had to use all my PTO for the days I had to call in sick.

3:21PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

i see the issue this way..if a person truly has a cold..i do no want them breathing on me close up or touching food, etc..stay home a day or too.....if a person has a cold they dont know that they dont have the flu either....dont want people breathing on me with possible flu symptoms.....

if a person truly needs to have a day off then they should take a day off..these are no longer the days of torturing people or slavery where you work yourself to death altho i have heard corporate enterprise does work people to death ...etc....

so everyone should have by law five days per year to take off...

3:02PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

Sorry, but until I see the law in black and white for each State, that one can be fired for calling in sick even when they can back it up with a Dr.s note (Which only real idiots would want if they are not offering any form of health insurance plan to their employees) IT IS AGAINST THE LAW TO FIRE SOMEONE FOR BEING SICK! Now. if you are making a habit of doing so, well then you are really useless to that employer as he needs people showing up for work in order to keep the doors open. So again Back your story up with all 50 States laws on employees calling in sick. Thank you...I'll be waiting!

1:37PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

Ridiculous. Would the boss rather have you take off when you're sick or come to work sick and spread your germs all over the place. People need to use common sense!!!!

10:26AM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

WOW

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