A reader shakes his head:
The post this morning in which Julia Ioffe blames American individualism for the tendency of Americans to go to work or school sick is missing the fundamental cause. According to a report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation time and is one of only a few rich countries that doesn’t require employers to offer at least some paid holidays. A full quarter of the US workforce receives no paid vacation or holiday time. It shouldn’t be surprising to find that when faced with the prospect of not getting paid or giving up scarce vacation days, American workers choose to show up sick.
Another notes that even businesses with sick-leave policies discourage workers from calling in with the flu:
Many companies pay employees not to use sick time, encourage them to ration it for when things get “really bad,” or actively prohibit its use. For example, they have policies that don’t allow employees to use sick time during their “probationary period” of six months to a year. This makes it seem normal to go about business as usual even when you feel like something the cat dragged in off a pile of hazmat suits.
Another adds, “Even if you get sick leave and using it doesn’t cut your vacation, you’d better not use more than half of it in any given year unless you’re actually in the hospital”:
Because if you do, management will assume that either a) you’re calling in sick when you are not in order to get a paid day off, or b) you’re a slacker who is unwilling to put out a little extra effort in order to get the job done. Either of which is grounds for termination, or at the minimum a bad performance review, which will get you to the head of the queue next time layoffs come around. The job is, obviously, more important than something trivial such as the health of the staff.
Note also that, if your job allows telecommuting, you will be expected to be working from home, even if you stay home because you are sick.
Another illustrates how sick children can be a major factor:
I’ve lived in rural South Texas for 35 years, and my two children attended a public elementary school in a very small town. In order to encourage economically disadvantaged children with limited English skills to get all the way through high school, our area rewards children at the elementary level for “100 percent attendance.” This isn’t strictly a rural phenomenon; I believe our nearest metropolitan area, a city of several hundred thousand people, has a similar practice.
As a result, the number of children who would show up at my kids’ school with fevers and running noses was appalling. Their parents would drop them off with a cheery and proud assurance that this was at their child’s insistence: “They want to win that attendance award!” So civic responsibility was removed from the list of things learned at school early on. Lately, I believe, a regular school nurse has started removing children who are running a fever from class.
And consider the problem of families with working parents. What does one do with a sick child who should be at home in bed when no one is home to care for them and paid child care is out of the question? Indeed, many Americans, with or without children, go out sick because they have no other alternative if they want to pay their bills. These are not the people Julia Ioffe is describing – people who are, indeed, insufferably self-centered and who do more damage showing up for work sick than they realize.
Protestant work ethic? Nah. Just being a self-centered asshole? Could be. Just trying to get by? More likely.