Paid sick days essential to keep economy rolling and combat H1N1 flu

Investing in technology is essential to building a robust educational infrastructure that can adapt to a crisis like the H1N1 flu virus, but it is really just one piece of the puzzle.

After all, even if little Jimmy or Sally is on the mend enough to pay attention to math problems, we can’t really expect a child to learn as much as s/he would in class by going online — alone — to download homework and watch a video of his/her teacher’s lecture. For that to really work, a parent will have to be there.

But nearly half of private-sector workers, including three in four low-wage workers and food service workers, have no paid sick days. They do not have the luxury of staying home to care for themselves or their child without suffering adverse financial consequences:

…more than one-third of flu cases are transmitted at schools and workplaces, and guaranteed paid sick days would reduce the spread of pandemic and seasonal flu by enabling workers to comply with public health advice if they or their family members show signs of illness. Infected workers staying home could reduce the spread of a pandemic flu virus by up to 34 percent. (More)

Skimping on paid sick days also puts the health of other workers and their own customers, while shorting employers improved productivity and morale.

It’s time for a national standard that lets every worker earn paid sick days – and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA) to do just that. HFA would guarantee every worker the right to earn up to seven paid sick days per year, ensuring people would no longer have to choose between getting a paycheck and their recovery when they get sick or need to care for a sick family member.

The bill requires employers with 15 or more employees to let workers earn up to seven paid sick days per year, to be used to address an employee’s short-term medical needs, such as the flu, or those of his or her family. It includes pro-rated leave for part-time employees, and sick days can be used for an employee’s medical appointments, preventative or diagnostic treatment; and to care for a family member with comparable needs.

Already the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recorded 6,506 hospitalized and 436 deaths related to H1N1 flu.  The cases of H1N1 are so widespread that the CDC and World Health Organization are no longer keeping track of the number of individual cases.  However, public health officials estimate the number of H1N1 cases in the U.S. reached the one-million mark in June 2009. If passed, the Healthy Families Act would be a powerful tool for preserving public health and family well-being in the months ahead.

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