Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Megan’s story: Paid sick days and public health

From the Coalition for Healthy Tacoma

Megan, a server at a Tacoma restaurant, called in sick with the flu one evening in 2007. Her supervisor told her the restaurant was busy that night, and she needed to come in anyway. “It was pretty much ‘you don’t call in sick unless you’re on your deathbed,’” said Megan.

Fearing she would lose her job, Megan went to work. “I was sneezing and coughing, some of the tables didn’t want me to serve them.” Then one of Megan’s customers called the health department, which contacted the restaurant about the incident.

Not long after, Megan’s supervisor called her to his office and accused her of calling the health department herself, which Megan denied: “I was on the floor the entire time. I didn’t call public health.” I told him, “You are questioning my integrity.”

A couple of days later, she was told to come and talk to the general manager. The general manager gave her an assignment: write a letter listing the reasons why she should still have a job.

With her father’s help, Megan wrote a letter stating that she was ill and had attempted to call in sick, but was denied a sick day by her supervisor. Three weeks later, Megan received a phone call to say she was being let go.

In the service industry, stories like Megan’s are all too common. Only 12% of restaurants in Washington provide paid sick leave, according to the Employment Security Department. The restaurant where Megan now works also does not offer paid sick days to its employees. And as a restaurant employee, Megan has little control over her schedule: unpaid time must be requested well in advance, and if it’s short notice as in the case of an illness, the employee must find someone to cover her shift.

“It’s not just paid sick days. If I am sick today, and I go to the doctor the next day, now I miss two days of work. I can’t afford it. I am worried about how am I going to put gas in my car to get to work. I have money today, but I am worried about tomorrow.”

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