The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 21, 2013

Flu season fuels debate over paid sick time laws

(Continued)

But to some business owners, paid sick leave is an impractical and unfair burden for small operations. Critics also say the timing is bad, given the choppy economy and the hardships inflicted by Superstorm Sandy.

Michael Sinensky, an owner of seven bars and restaurants around the city, was against the sick time proposal before Sandy. And after the storm shut down four of his restaurants for days or weeks, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that his insurers have yet to pay, "we're in survival mode."

"We're at the point, right now, where we cannot afford additional social initiatives," said Sinensky, whose roughly 500 employees switch shifts if they can't work, an arrangement that some restaurateurs say benefits workers because paid sick time wouldn't include tips.

Employees without sick days are more likely to go to work with a contagious illness, send an ill child to school or day care and use hospital emergency rooms for care, according to a 2010 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that a lack of sick time helped spread 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

To be sure, many employees entitled to sick time go to work ill anyway, out of dedication or at least a desire to project it. But the work-through-it ethic is shifting somewhat amid growing awareness about spreading sickness.

"Right now, where companies' incentives lie is butting right up against this concern over people coming into the workplace, infecting others and bringing productivity of a whole company down," said John A. Challenger, CEO of employer consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Paid sick day requirements are often popular in polls, but only four places have them: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut. The specific provisions vary.

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