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Strange, but True—I’d Rather Be Working

February 25, 2010

When you’re plastered to the bed by fever-sweat and the television is on, but you’re not watching because your head hurts too much to do anything, but it’s audio company and provides the illusion that you’re at least doing something—after all, there might be a quotation or two to capture—some things stand out. Apolo Ohno, for example. This American Olympian keeps going even when he isn’t feeling well. He uses DayQuil® (and probably NyQuil® too). I hear this and I feel guilty.

It’s the flu and cold season and I hear that Dr. Mom (or maybe it’s just Mom) will keep you going with Theraflu® supersaver deals available somewhere near you. I feel even more guilty. And I’m fortunate. I can stay home. I have paid sick leave. Many Americans do not—a third of them according to U.S Department of Labor estimates—and many of them show up at work when they’re contagious because they don’t feel they have a choice. Congress is considering legislation that would guarantee sick leave for workers. This makes sense to me.

I am wondering right now if the clerk at a large name-not-to-be-mentioned superstore who was clearly ill and wiped her nose with her hand and then packaged my purchases caused my current illness. I tried to be careful when I got home and washed my hands as I unpacked and wiped things off with antibacterial soap, but still, I wonder. I wanted to walk away without my stuff, but I didn’t. I wanted to say something to her or to her boss, but I didn’t. I was afraid to cause trouble that she might not be able to overcome.

I’ve worked in jobs where I had no sick leave, where it was suck-it-up-and-work or they’d find someone else. Students often find themselves in these kinds of jobs. Factor in the possibility of sick children and there are lots of people out there using vacation days (if they have them) to stay home with their kids. I’ve been there, throwing up into the wastebasket next to my desk because I knew I’d lose my job if I went home and I knew I’d need my vacation days when daycare called and said I had to come pick up a sick child.

So what does this mean for students? Most teachers will understand the occasional student absence due to illness, yours or a child’s. We have our own struggles with this because we hate to cancel a class that only meets once or twice a week. If you’re a student, don’t use up your illness credits when no one is sick. Being hungover or tired or needing to get work done or study for another class isn’t being sick. You may need to stay away from class when you really are ill and it will be harder to do so if you’ve used up your professor’s good will.

Sick leave. Your thoughts?

I’ve known people who were sick as a dog and come into work anyway and loaded up on Theraflu® and energy drinks and that’s how they got through their shift.
• Nathan Rice, food server, Los Angeles

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