As the nation braces for the coming H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, the federal government has issued warnings to the general public, including the following tips from flu.gov:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
In an article on CNNMoney.com, the National Partnership for Women and Families, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, reported that 48% of the U.S. private-sector workforce can't take paid leave without advance notice. However, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommending that people infected with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after fever symptoms have disappeared, employees with limited or no sick leave are caught in the middle. If they go to work sick, they risk infecting others and spreading the flu; if they stay home to recover, they risk losing their jobs.
Even healthcare facilities are caught in the conflict. In an article on medicalnewstoday.com, the National Nurses Organizing Committee--Arizona reported that many registered nurses in surveyed facilities are not guaranteed sick time in case of swine flu infection. Also, many nurses are threatened with discipline if they fail to come to work.
According to CNNMoney.com, unions and worker advocates have stepped up efforts for local laws that require businesses to offer paid sick leave. There are now 15 states and cities that have paid sick leave bills in the works.
"This is definitely pressing because of all the projections of how the swine flu and the regular flu season will be affecting people," said Shula Warren, chief of staff for New York City council member Gale Brewer. Brewer is responsible for introducing local legislation for a sick-leave law that would also allow New York workers to use sick time to care not only for ill children, but also for kids whose schools are closed because of swine flu fears.
If Congress takes up the Healthy Families Act, initially spearheaded by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and now taken up by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., it would provide up to seven paid sick days a year at all companies with 15 or more employees.
For now, the CDC recommends that employers encourage employees with flu-like symptoms or illness to stay home, operate with reduced staffing, and have employees who are at high risk of serious medical complications from infection work from home.
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