How do you feel about a restaurant worker with swine flu sneezing and coughing on your food when he or she prepares it or brings it to your table?
It's something that could very well happen because, as Chuck Sheketoff points out on the Blue Oregon blog, "fewer than one in five businesses in Oregon's leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, offer paid sick days to their employees."
To try to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus - which at this writing is believed to have killed 159 people in Mexico and one in Texas -- the Centers for Disease Control and Oregon public health officials are urging people who are sick to stay home and avoid infecting others. But it's tough to heed that advice when you're barely making ends meet and missing a day's work means losing a day's pay.
Sheketoff, the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, points out that according to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate, "650,000 Oregonians - 48% of Oregon workers - are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill." And those who can least afford to miss a day's work - low-wage workers in the service and other industries - are the ones least likely to have paid sick days.
"Paid sick leave is obviously important to working families and public health, but it's also good for businesses," Sheketoff writes. "One study estimated that employees showing up to work sick cost US businesses $150 billion a year in lost productivity - far more than the cost of letting employees stay home when sick."
Forcing workers to be on the job when they're sick or lose their pay is a public health hazard, it's short-sighted business policy, and - worst of all - it's barbaric, a practice reminiscent of the days of child labor and the 60-hour work week. There should be a federal law requiring employers to give their employees a minimum number of sick days - or, failing that, an Oregon law.
And if the legislature won't go for that, Sheketoff offers another intriguing suggestion: "At a minimum, shouldn't public health officials at least warn us about which employers provide paid sick leave and which don't so we can protect ourselves?"
Works for us - although we bet the restaurant industry won't think much of it.