Flu bringing up sick leave debate

Contagious people still working due to not having paid sick days

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With so many people coming down with the flu, more people are becoming aware of the argument for sick pay.

Flu season appears to be getting worse across the nation. Right now 47 out of 50 states are reporting widespread cases of the flu.

The Florida Department of Health reports that influenza is elevated in all regions of Florida.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 Florida counties reported an increase in flu infection for the week that ended Jan. 12.

That's the most recent week for which numbers are available.

An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to another issue -- sick leave. More than 40 million people don't have it, bringing more people into the sick leave debate.

Only four cities or states nationwide have paid sick day requirements.

With a brutal flu season and pollen blooming, the coughing, sneezing and itchy eye symptoms are all around, leaving many people unable to make it into work.

It's very likely that at least one person in workplaces around the nation has come down with the flu, possibly passing it along to coworkers.

Many probably wished the original person with the flu didn't come to work feeling ill.

These sentiments are sparking conversations about paid sick leave.

"In Florida and in the overwhelming part of the nation, there's no right to paid sick leave," labor and employment attorney Bob Riegel said. "You can use sick leave that's provided by the employer if there is paid sick leave. You can use paid vacation in some situations."

Paid sick day requirements only exist in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Connecticut.

For other states, the number of paid sick days an employee gets is totally up to the employer.

The conversation is ongoing in New York City where doctors, nurses and activists rallied Friday at City Hall. Lawmakers there are weighing a sick leave proposal.

A study done in 2011 by the American Journal of Public Health found a lack of sick time helped spread about 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

That's because employees without sick days are more likely to go to work with contagious symptoms.

Riegel said required paid sick leave would put small to medium size businesses under water.

If someone is sick and feels they must be at work, they should talk about exceptions with their boss.

"Is there an arrangement where you can come in and work and be isolated in a cubicle or an office," Riegel said. "Or something where even if you may be contagious, you can get your work done and not expose the whole group."

In Florida, there is the family medical leave act that makes sure an employee is covered with unpaid sick time.

It is aimed at protecting someone if they have to be out for a long time. They won't get paid, but the employer can't fire the employee or eliminate their job.

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