Corona virus and Sick Leave

The public panic over Corona virus has renewed calls for paid sick leave among hospitality workers. To some extent, this makes sense. As I stated in a previous article, hospitality workers are on the front lines of any health crisis, being that our entire job is hosting and working with the general public.

The question we have to ask–before we really get into whether or not sick leave would stop the spread of disease–is: are people going to work sick because they can’t afford to get sick, or for another reason?

Coming from personal experience, (and looking at a lot of comments on Facebook) if someone called in sick, there isn’t a lot of question as to whether or not they are coming in. They just aren’t.

In some cases–when you have 3 or 4 people who all claim to be sick at the same time–you simply need someone to get you through to your plan “D”. These are generally the times you are going to see someone go in to work when they really should be at home.

How sick leave would work

Now, I’m not saying that having sick leave is a bad idea. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with it, but I worry that people in the service industry don’t really know how it would work if they actually had it.

In other industries (specifically office jobs) you get a set number of days that you can get paid sick leave. The number of days and the policies all vary from company to company, but you can generally expect three days of sick leave for every few hundred hours worked.

Once you use all of your sick time it goes back to unpaid time, except that now, every day you take off is being more closely watched.

Right now, time off requests in the industry are like the wild west. Nobody is really keeping track and as long as someone is there, your manager is somewhat happy. If you throw paid sick leave in there, now your manager has a vested interest in knowing exactly how much time you are taking off.

For those employees in the industry that may suffer a little too much from the “brown bottle flu” this could mean straightening up or losing your job.

It’s a paradox, you see. You get paid for the time, but now you have to actually show up for your shifts.

The pay in “paid sick leave”

As far as pay goes, anybody outside of the industry can be forgiven for thinking that the paycheck from your employer actually matters to you. Despite what we all know, there is still a narrative out there that if you wait tables, you’re actually poor.

When someone on the outside advocates for paid sick leave for hospitality, they only see the “under $10 an hour” number. They don’t know that any bartender or server worth their salt can easily make $30,000 a year working part time.

Ironically, when hospitality workers advocate for paid sick leave, they tend to forget what they would actually be paid.

Instead of getting $200-$400 a day–as if you had worked the shift–you would be getting, at most, $120 a day.

And that’s assuming you live in Washington state or New York city. For the most part, you’d be getting under $100 a day, which we all know would then go to pay taxes on the tips you collect.

Transmission of disease

An article in Talkpoverty made the case that sick leave would help stop the spread of disease and bolstered the claim by saying, “In 2017, 130 people were sickened by an outbreak of norovirus — a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness — which was directly linked to Chipotle’s management policies around sick workers.”

However, when you click on the link, you find out that the managers weren’t following company policy, which was to require that employees with a fever stay home.

In a hilariously ironic twist, Chipotle already offers paid sick leave.

In that case, if the managers had not been completely incompetent, flouted health law and ignored company policy, the outbreak wouldn’t have occurred.

Now, common sense no the part of management is one thing, but we also have to talk about how often customers come in sick. I saw it a lot and I’m sure you do too. People will come in, looking miserable, coughing and sneezing, and act like it’s just another day.

They will sit there for hours, getting germs everywhere.

Paid sick leave for the staff simply isn’t going to do anything to stop that, and honestly, that’s what people should be worried about. There are a lot more of “them” than us. We may serve hundreds of people a day, but there are hundreds of people a day coming to us.

Conclusion

Is paid sick leave worth pursuing for hospitality? It’s hard to say. There are some cases where it could theoretically help, particularly if your place is slow or it’s the down season.

For the most part it wouldn’t be a major expense for companies to follow through on, so there wouldn’t be too much risk to the overall business from allowing for paid sick leave.

Would it actually stop the spread of disease, though? Knowing the industry–especially the customers–I’d be willing to say that, no, paid sick leave wouldn’t stop corona virus or any other illness.

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