Paid time off for catching H1N1

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It's a public health emergency prompting some emergency action on Capitol Hill.  Democratic Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) said workers should have paid sick leave as a matter of basic fairness.  "But now sick leave is a matter of keeping American families safe from this pandemic, and the next," he said.

"I'd be happy with that," said Crystal Hahn. "That'd be great."

Hahn now cares for her one year old son, full-time, but used to work in retail.  She said paid sick days are hard to come by.

Cherie Pettigrew is a nurse and does not get paid sick days.

Pettigrew said her son just turned a year old, but she's already had to call in twice when got sick.  She said you can never have enough days, but seven are better than none.

"Food, or call in?  I think you're going to think about that food first," she said.

Some lawmakers say American families should not have to choose between being getting better and making ends meet.

Dodd's office said the legislation would allow workers to decide when to use their sick time, although medical certification could be required through regulation by the Department of Labor.  Once signed, the bill would sunset after 2 years.  Workers would be given seven paid sick days to use for leave because of their own flu-like symptoms, or to take care of a child.

Les Ellsworth owns The Potpourri House in Tyler.

"As a restaurant, we don't want [our staff] here while they're sick," said Ellsworth.  "There's no question about that."

Ellsworth said all 60 of his employees have access to paid sick days as part of an overall PTO policy.  He said the legislation is not necessary.

"If we're adding another seven days for 60 employees, that could be tens to $100,000 in just this business alone," said Ellsworth.

He said menu prices would have to go up, and, these days, no one can afford that.  He said during tough economic times, increasing customer costs, and business costs is the wrong direction to go.

A similar bill is being tossed around in the House.  The CDC estimates people who go to work sick with the H1N1 virus can infect 10 percent of their co-workers.

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