Staying at home sick or getting paid?Workers Face Omicron Dilemma | Coronavirus Pandemic News

As the COVID-19 ravages Omicron variants infecting workers across the country, millions of people whose jobs do not provide paid sick leave have to choose between health and salary.


Although many companies enacted stronger sick leave policies at the beginning of the pandemic, some of them have been reduced with the introduction of vaccines, although Omicron has managed to evade injections. At the same time, the current labor shortage has increased the pressure on workers. If they cannot afford to stay at home, they must decide whether to bring illness to work.

“This is a vicious circle,” said Daniel Schneider, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “Because employees are exhausted due to illness, it means that those at work have more things to do and are less willing to take sick leave when they are sick.”


Low-income hourly workers are particularly vulnerable. According to the National Salary Survey of Employee Benefits conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in March, nearly 80% of private sector workers have at least one paid sick leave. However, only 33% of workers whose wages are in the bottom 10% get paid sick leave, compared with 95% of workers whose wages are in the top 10%.

Harvard’s Shift project conducted a survey of approximately 6,600 hourly low-wage workers last fall. The program focused on inequality and found that 65% of workers who reported sickness last month said they did it anyway. Go to Work. This is lower than 85% of those who went to work with illness before the pandemic, but much higher than what should be during a public health crisis. Schneider said the situation could get worse due to Omicron and labor shortages.


A worker wears a mask while sorting goods in a Walmart storeWalmart, the largest retailer in the U.S., halved pandemic-related paid leave – from two weeks to one week – after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the quarantine requirements for people who tested positive for asymptomatics. [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

More importantly, Schneider pointed out that the proportion of workers on paid sick leave before the pandemic has hardly changed during the pandemic—50% and 51%, respectively. He further pointed out that many of the working poor under investigation did not even have 400 US dollars in emergency funds. With the expiration of the children’s tax credit, families will now be more financially struggling because the children’s tax credit will keep families in their pockets every month. Hundred dollars.

The Associated Press interviewed a worker who started a new job in New Mexico last month and began experiencing COVID-like symptoms earlier this week. The worker, who did not want to be named, requested anonymity because it might endanger their employment. He took a day off for testing, and then spent two days waiting for the results.

A supervisor called to tell workers that they are only eligible for paid sick leave if they test positive for COVID. If the test result is negative, workers will have to take time off because they don’t have enough time to take sick leave.


“I think it’s the right thing to protect my colleagues,” said the worker who is still waiting for the results, and estimated that if their test results were negative, they would lose $160 a day. “Now, I hope I just go to work and say nothing.”

A Trader Joe worker in California also declined to be named because he did not want to take the risk of work. He said that the company allows workers to accumulate paid time off for vacation or sick leave. But once this period of time runs out, employees often feel that they cannot afford a no-pay day.

“I think many people now come to work with illness or what they call’allergies’ because they feel they have no choice,” the worker said.


Trader Joe’s provided hazard pay until the beginning of last year, and he even offered time off if workers had symptoms related to COVID. But the employee said that these benefits have ended. The company also no longer requires customers to wear masks in all of its stores.

The headquarters of the Kroger supermarket chain is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, USAKroger is ending some benefits for unvaccinated salaried workers in an attempt to force more people to be vaccinated when COVID-19 cases rise again [File: Lisa Baertlein/Reuters]

Other companies are also reducing the amount of sick leave they provide early in the pandemic. Kroger, the country’s largest traditional grocery chain, is ending some benefits for unvaccinated salaried workers in an attempt to force more people to be vaccinated when COVID-19 cases rise again. Unvaccinated workers participating in the Kroger health care plan will no longer be eligible for up to two weeks of paid emergency leave if they are infected—a policy implemented last year when vaccines were not available.

At the same time, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the isolation requirements for people who tested positive for asymptomatics, Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, halved the pandemic-related paid leave—from two weeks. To a week.

Workers have received some relief from more and more states. According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the past ten years, 14 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or voting measures requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.

However, on the federal side, the movement has stalled. Congress passed a law in early 2020 requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave for employees with COVID-related illnesses. However, the requirement expired on December 31 of the same year. According to the US Department of Labor, Congress later extended the tax credit for employers who voluntarily provide paid sick leave, but the extension expired at the end of September.

In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of President Joe Biden’s “Rebuild Better Plan”, which will require employers to provide 20 days of paid vacation to employees who are sick or caring for family members. But the fate of the bill is uncertain in the Senate.

“We can’t do things that are pieced together. It must be holistic. It must be meaningful,” said Josephine Kalipeni, executive director of Family Values ​​@ Work, which is a combination of 27 states and A national network of local alliances helps to advocate policies such as paid sick leave.

According to a 2020 study by the Center for World Policy Analysis at the University of California, Los Angeles, the United States is one of only 11 countries in the world without any federal government stipulating paid sick leave.

On the other hand, small business owners like Dawn Crawley, CEO of House Cleaning Heroes, cannot pay workers when they are sick. But Crowley is trying to help in other ways. She recently drove a cleaner without a car to a nearby test site. Later, she bought some medicine, orange juice and oranges for the cleaner.

“If they are out, I will try to give them money, but at the same time my company must survive,” Crowley said. “If the company goes bankrupt, no one has a job.”

Even with paid sick leave, employees are not always aware of this.

Ingrid Vilorio, who works at the Jack in the Box restaurant in Castro Valley, California, began to feel unwell in March last year and soon tested positive for the new crown virus. Vilorio notified a supervisor who did not tell her that under California law, she was eligible for paid sick leave and supplementary COVID leave.

Vilorio said her doctor told her to take 15 days off, but she decided to take only 10 days off because she had bills to pay. A few months later, a colleague told Vilorio that she owed her sick pay during her vacation. Vilorio and her colleagues reported the restaurant to the county health department through Fight for $15, an organization dedicated to unionizing workers in the fast food industry. Soon after, she got her salary refunded.

But Velorio, who can speak Spanish, still has problems speaking through an interpreter. She said that the workers were still sick and were often afraid to speak out.

“Without our health, we cannot work,” she said. “We were told that we were front-line workers, but we were not treated like this.”

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