Fresh Living: Calling In Sick

May 24th, 2010 by Valerie Reiss

The ethics of going in to work or staying home.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project


There's a story in the New York Times by a doctor who regularly sees patients go into work with 100-plus degree fevers. She confesses to doing the same. Her (not very convincing) moral: Stay home! But a lot of people don't have that option or don't feel they do. Over at Tara Parker Pope's blog, Well, she asks readers whether they take sick days. Many say they don't. A sampling of comments:

"What's a sick day? I don't have anyone available to do my work if I'm out. I could be barfing up a lung and still be asked to do emergency things from my computer at home. I keep hearing people telling me that if I'm not careful, I'll wind up in the hospital with a heart attack. I'm like, 'Promise?'"

and

From an ambulance worker: "I woke up vomiting one day and found this out the hard way when I called in 2 hours before my shift and got suspended - if I'd done it one more time in the next 6 months, I would have been fired."

and

"My boyfriend, a fine dining waiter, was once told he needed a doctor's excuse to call in sick. Since he has no medical insurance that meant he would have had to pay $150 - $200 for a doctor's visit so he could call in sick... on top of losing money for missing work. Fortunately, when he showed up for work feverish and clearly ill, a more sane manager sent him home"

And on, and on.

Many also comment on the fact that many companies are lumping in sick days with vacation days as "paid time off." So people come in sick so they still have vacation time, making everyone else sick in the process.

It's some sad stuff. We get sick partly because we're stressed from work, and then many workplaces don't allow you to actually be sick, thus not taking responsibility for the problems they help create. And can we keep ourselves well — exercise, eat right, sleep enough, when many jobs essentially demand that we do none of those things? Our messy humanness is in the way of "progress" and profit. The message: Be a better cog, please. And without those "cells" or "immune systems" or "bodily functions," if you would.

I often wonder what our economy would look like if we all got enough sleep, had time to prepare fresh, whole food, work out, snuggle, laugh, play. Maybe it would thrive. And maybe it really wouldn't matter so much at all.