How Covid did away with the sick day in America

The typical isolated postcard tone is sunny, urgent, and ambitious as a holiday greeting: “Thank you to everyone who sent VP’s good wishes,” Doug Imhoff, 2nd man, wrote on Twitter. “She’s feeling good and working from home.”

Like many Americans, Vice President Kamala Harris contracted Covid-19 in late April. Like so many Americans, she worked through it, sitting at her desk surrounded by the cues of productivity: folders, pens, and sticky pastel sheets. Other Covid positive political figures have confirmed to the public that they, too, are making progress on their to-do lists: Jen Psaki and Gavin Newsom. Donald Trump, when he had Covid-19, snapped his hands-on photos, even though he appeared to be signing a white paper.

In the only wealthy country in the world that does not guarantee paid sick leave, working only through it – even for those who can take paid leave – is the norm.

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“I’m trying to figure out in my head why I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to work through it,’” said William Fitzgerald, 36, who runs a strategy firm. “He caught Covid-19 in late April and had meetings throughout his illness.” the week?”

Working while sick is an American pastime – that sinister pandemic, which infected millions, somehow didn’t disrupt it. More than 100 other countries guarantee some form of paid sick leave. In the United States, a survey of 3,600 hourly workers this spring found that two-thirds of those who contracted COVID-19 or other illnesses went to work while sick, according to Harvard’s Transformation Project, a job research project. scheduling. Many of them mentioned a fear of getting into trouble with their managers, or financial stress.

About 33 million Americans do not get paid sick leave. Low-income workers are less likely to be able to take time off when they are sick; Just over half of people in the bottom quartile of wages get paid sick leave, compared to 94 percent in the top quartile.

But even salaried workers who have paid time off often don’t use the time allotted to them. Americans working in the private sector get an average of seven sick days per year. A survey of large employers, conducted by Mercer, found that hourly workers used only half their sick days in 2021. That number is nearly unchanged from what it was before the pandemic, in 2018, which Mercer analysts attribute in part to the prevalence of sick people. working from home. In other words, for some people, Covid-19 has eliminated the sick day rather than reinforcing it.

“There’s this culture in which everyone around you works, so you feel compelled to keep up with it,” Fitzgerald said. “The most important value in America seems to be the amount of money in your bank account, and I think that’s what drives a lot of work during illness.”

Fitzgerald, still exhausted from the bout of Covid-19, has designed generous leave policies for his employees: unlimited sick days, with a minimum of 25 vacation days. But when he got chills in late April and tested positive for the coronavirus, he couldn’t take advantage of this paid leave. After all, it was a very stressful week at work, with customer calls on top of an employee retreat.

So Fitzgerald lobbied through video meetings, inviting his team to sit in his yard while wearing a mask so they wouldn’t miss their time for in-person collaboration.

“I don’t think that sent a nice signal to the people who work for me,” he said.

By the time it had been two weeks since his illness, and he was packed every day with 20 calls, he felt as if he was collapsing. He logged out of one client meeting, got into bed and slept from 1-7pm.

In the office, workers said, it’s sometimes easier to demarcate the lines between work days, which means coffee and commutes, and sick days, which means chicken soup.

“You would go to the doctor and you would get a note and you would say, ‘You can take off for three days,’” Fitzgerald said. “It would be pretty much like ‘Those are the rules, we have to obey them.’”

But those don’t seem to be the rules now. Why do people stay connected even when they have pain, a cough and a fever – and they pay a vacation? With so many people now vaccinated, a positive coronavirus test is sometimes treated with disapproval, even as the virus continues to spread.

Some office workers said they couldn’t shake off the guilt arising from a system that makes productivity seem like a virtue, the same system that tolerates a lack of paid sick leave.

James Carr, 38, the data scientist, who got and worked through Covid-19 in February, remembers being reprimanded for trying to use his sick days at a previous job because of a looming deadline. AZ Madonna, 28, a music journalist, recently contracted Covid-19, couldn’t silence the voice in her head wondering why she wasn’t doing anything.

“I’ve definitely had managers who encourage me within a minute to actually take a break, but they still answer my emails when they’re on vacation or sick,” Madonna said. “It might be a bit of a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ kind of thing.”

Many workers find themselves, consciously or unconsciously, imitating the way their superiors behave. They testify to managers answering emails from bed, and feel they should do the same.

So some presidents are taking a more assertive stance on the use of their vacations. Jim Canales, president of the Barr Foundation, a charitable organization focused on the arts, education and climate, contracted Covid-19 about a month ago. Canales has spent the past two years urging his team to take care of themselves, knowing that working through his illness would undermine that message. He sent a morning email to his staff noting that it was Friday Friday, Mercury was in retrograde and had tested positive for Covid-19 – and he wasn’t planning on being available for meetings or emails.

“I can’t preach a self-care message for two years and then act differently,” he said.

Canales reformulated his organization’s sick leave policies during the pandemic, with the goal of encouraging employees to take advantage of their vacation. He renamed sick days as healthy days, so workers know they can be used to care for family members, too. This health leave was also unlimited, so no one felt pressured to save him for the future.

But even as some employers encourage workers to use their vacation, many others are forgoing benefits that were offered during the pandemic. This spring, Amazon announced the return to its pre-pandemic sick leave. Walmart stopped offering paid emergency leave for most of its workers with Covid-19 at the end of March, instead requiring employees to use their regular bank for paid leave and sick days.

Some argue that the disappearance of sick leave prevents them from making a full recovery. Angela Lewis, who works in the loudspeaker desk, tested positive for coronavirus last month along with the rest of her family. Her son stayed home, left school, and her self-employed husband slept. Meanwhile, Lewis dropped a note in Slack saying she had Covid-19 and then faked it during her usual work week, even though her busy head felt like she weighed 100 pounds.

She said, “Some people have a badge of honor sort of like ‘Yeah, I worked through it, it was really good.'” In the end, I can say I did the same.

“I didn’t have a fever, so I felt compelled to work through it,” she added, noting that she had paid time off that she hadn’t used. “But then I got annoyed with my sense of obligation.”

And even some of those managers who are more vocally committed to rest and recovery struggle to accept their own advice.

“I’m talking about this in hindsight, what I’ve learned, but I’m still at work this week trying to get through,” said Fitzgerald, who said he didn’t feel fully recovered.

A day later, he called again with an update: He had decided to take the day off.

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