Kathleen Lavey of the Lansing State Journal reports on Dan Domanowski, who is part of a sea of mid-Michigan workers who shake off illnesses to report to work. Some under-the-weather workers head to the office out of dedication. Others don’t want to shift their duties onto colleagues, or face huge lists of postponed tasks when they return to work. Some don’t get paid if they don’t show up.
But dedication can come at a cost.
A worker infected with the norovirus went to work at Carrabba’s Italian Grill on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, said Barry-Eaton District Health Department officials. As many as 430 people who ate at the Delta Township restaurant got it, too, vomiting and racing to the bathroom with diarrhea.
“As a general rule, we tell people not to go to work if they’re feeling ill because if you are engaged in an occupation where you have a lot of person-to-person contact, you’re likely to spread the illness,” said Dr. Dean Sienko, medical director of the Ingham County Health Department.
“There are some diseases that are not contagious, and there are others that are,” said T.J. Bucholz of the Michigan Department of Community Health. “Staying at home ensures that you don’t infect others.”
But that solution isn’t always easy, especially when other factors, such as money, come into play.
Loss of income
About a quarter of part-time workers in private industry were entitled to sick pay at their jobs in 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the same year, 69 percent of full-time workers in private industry received paid sick leave. That’s one percentage point less than in 2004.
According to CCH, a health information firm, companies granted an average of 6.9 sick days to employees in 2004, down from 7.6 in 2003.
Rachel Black of Lansing was one of the Carrabba’s diners who got the virus. She and her husband ate at the restaurant Jan. 28 and were sick the next day.
Although she was still tired two days later, she was symptom-free and reported to her customer-service job at the Accident Fund Co. because she didn’t want to let her co-workers down.
“We’re all pretty concerned about each other,” she said.
So when does a sniffling, coughing or feverish colleague cross the line? It depends on the illness and the job.
“There are certain occupations where we are more concerned about this than others,” Sienko said. “A person sticking an IV in you has direct access to your bloodstream. A person preparing food for you has direct access to your gastrointestinal system. A truck driver is not going to have that direct contact with people.”
Elizabeth Gray, a registered nurse at Ingham Regional Medical Center, said it’s sometimes tough to decide when to use her limited sick time – when she’s sick or when her children are ill. Plus, she knows they need her on the job.
“I’m always worried about the possible consequences of me calling in sick,” she said.
According to Joseph Marutiak of the Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 459, which represents Ingham Regional’s nurses, the number of times a nurse can call in sick recently was reduced. If an employee stays home when sick more than four times in a year, they may be subject to disciplinary action.
David Eich, chief marketing officer for the hospital, said he could not address any change in the policy. But he added: “We would not expect any nurse who’s not feeling well to come in and take care of our patients.”
And there’s a cost to businesses when workers try to tough it out. Workplace experts have coined a term for working sick: presenteeism. That accounts for time lost when workers are on the job but not working at their usual pace.
The cost of providing sick time to an employee in 2005 was 1 percent of his or her total compensation, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But a 2004 study by Cornell University researchers estimates that having sick workers on the job can cost a company more than that because of spreading illness and lost productivity.
For a restaurant, a health incident can cost it future business.
“You do everything you can to avoid something like this,” said Rob Gifford, executive director of the Michigan Restaurant Association, which includes 4,500 restaurants statewide. “Basically, nothing is more important in our industry than food safety and protecting the public health, and it is obviously very difficult to do so if you have a contagious employee in the workplace.”