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Sick call


Laura Boyd April 3rd, 2008

What is more "Oklahoman" than football, the Fourth of July and " well " fast foods? Apparently, we could also add to the list of common experiences flu, colds and respiratory illnesses.   How d...

What is more "Oklahoman" than football, the Fourth of July and " well " fast foods? Apparently, we could also add to the list of common experiences flu, colds and respiratory illnesses.

 

How does it happen? Not washing our hands enough, being in crowd with a "wet" sneezer, giving our kids a hug after school and before disinfecting them? Regardless of how, the "what-is-this" and "when-will-it-be-over" are not fun!

 

Which brings me to a controversial concept: Should state policy makers provide working families with time resources such as paid sick days, family leave, part-time employment benefits and/or promote tele-work or flexible work schedules? Is "time" really a public policy matter in Central Oklahoma or anywhere else for that matter?

 

Perhaps my musings are tied especially to my recent two-week bout of respiratory illness; however, indulge me for a moment.

 

According to the nationally known Sloan Work and Family Research Network (supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), 33 percent of all families in Oklahoma are single-parent families, 68 percent of families with children ages 6 to 17 have two working parents, and 59 percent of families with children under age 6 have two working parents. Thirty percent of the Oklahoma workforce is comprised of low-wage workers, meaning those earning a wage that cannot lift a family of four above the poverty level, even with full-time and year-round employment. So getting sick and missing work is not a "luxury" most of us can indulge.

 

Restaurant and hospitality workers are typically low-wage workers and typically lack paid sick days. When they get sick, it is untenable for them to take time off. And now we have a public health issue: restaurant and hospitality workers who come to work sick and with a communicable illness may make their patrons sick. Could it be I got my infection from that fast-food stop after school with my 11-year-old? Or might it be from that gala dinner, served so elegantly, in honor of community dignitaries?

 

Is this a public health issue? And if so, should I expect my elected leaders to help "protect" me from unnecessary exposure, perhaps by creating some sort of temporary disability insurance for sick workers or by requiring employers to provide some level of paid sick leave?

 

Thus far, my focus is totally selfish, so I don't get sick! What about the fact that when working parents have some time and flexibility to meet the needs of their children, the children are healthier and have higher educational outcomes? Or the fact that when workers are healthy and work, whether in low-paying or high-paying jobs, tax revenues stay up and contribute to our local and state economies? If lawmakers required some level of paid sick leave even for low-paid workers, wouldn't that be good economic policy?

 

Of course there is "another side": Businesses worry about increases in labor costs, managers struggle with gaps in workplace coverage and scheduling holes, and some employees will surely abuse paid sick days.

 

Meanwhile, I'm still finishing my second round of antibiotics "¦ and working from home. Could be that I'm lucky!

 

Boyd, a former state legislator and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is owner and chief executive officer of Policy and Performance Consultants Inc.

 
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